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The reconstruction of the Clanwilliam dam wall and history

Nestled in the stunning Cederberg region you will find the unique Clanwilliam Dam. At the moment, it is being reconstructed to increase its volume and water capacity. The dam is set in one of the most ruggedly beautiful places in the Western Cape, with red soil, craggy mountain ranges like the Cederberg mountains, and caves that still house traditional rock art from thousands of years ago. It is a three-hour drive to Cape Town’s city centre, but for the scenery, the road trip is definitely worth the drive.

The dam is what is known as a “gravity dam”, meaning that it holds back the weight of the water using the power of the dam walls alone. It is situated on the Olifants River near the beautiful town of Clanwilliam.

There is plenty of luxurious Clanwilliam Dam accommodation to choose from that allows you beautiful views of the town and the dam itself. Some of the Clanwilliam accommodation is within a short driving distance of the dam and surrounding attractions such as the Olifant River valley, so you will not have to travel far to explore the area.

For construction workers, foremen and planners alike who are working on the dam reconstruction, this convenience makes life easy and efficient. And if you will be working in the area for a long period, Clanwilliam Hotel is the ideal accommodation option.

The history of the dam is an interesting one, as we outline below.

The town of Clanwilliam: a great working town and holiday destination

In order to understand the history of Clanwilliam Dam, we have to cast our eyes back on the history of the town. The town was previously known as Jan Disselvlei, after the botanist Jan Dissel who lived in the Rhenosterbosch at the foot of the Piketberg Mountains.

The town was renamed by Sir John Cradock in 1814 after the Earl of Clanwilliam, his father-in-law. In this small but unique town, you will find a sawmill and a veldskoen factory. It is also home to the Rooibos Tea Control Board, making it one of the best places to find delectable variants of the popular South African drink. There are fun and exciting activities such as hiking, fishing, visiting nature reserves and discovering ancient rock along the San rock art trail.

When was the dam built?

Clanwilliam Dam was constructed in 1935 as a way to provide irrigation water to the downstream agricultural region. Its original height was 37 metres, which was extended in 1964 to be 43 metres. The capacity of this scenic dam is 121,800,000 cubic metres, allowing it to house a significant volume of water to service a large portion of the population of the area.

Clanwilliam Dam is only 3 kilometres from Clanwilliam itself and was built because the water supply from the lower dam, known as Bulshoek Dam, was becoming inadequate for the needs of the farmers in the area. Now, farmers can happily use this supply for their livestock and crops, although only 23 farmers currently practise irrigation using the dam. This is controlled by an irrigation board in order to maintain the levels of the dam.

Numbers to know

Because of how the dam is used, it stands to reason that it should have a significant water capacity. When the dam is full, it has a foundation level capacity of 74,132,148 cubic metres (or 60,100 acre-feet) and a surface area of 786 hectares. The impressive catchment area is measured at 2,090 square kilometres and includes the Ceres mountain range.

The annual runoff of the dam has been measured at an impressive 369,400 acre-feet or 455,647,512 cubic metres, which meant an overflow of water almost every winter since the dam was built in the 1930s. The water supply needed to be increased, so in 1964 the wall was raised by 6 metres. The solid concrete part of the wall was raised by 3 metres, as were the gates. The supply area of the water extends for 97 kilometres down the valley and forms part of the irrigation works of Olifants River.

The future of Clanwilliam Dam

The project is underway, which means that the dam walls will be raised in order to hold more water. This means that there will be more water available to the people living in and around the area. The project should take about four years to complete and is being done to increase the water capacity and volume that can be used by farmers and residents in the area.

More numbers to know

The project to raise the dam intends to raise the wall height by up to 13 metres, meaning that its capacity will increase to three times what it is now. This is an impressive feat, as it will allow the dam to provide water to an additional 5000 hectares of land. More farmers and landowners will have access to water for irrigation and general use.

The cost of the project will be around R2.5 billion, but this is necessary in order for it to be a success. The dam project will create over 4000 new jobs, including 3800 permanent jobs and 680 temporary jobs, such as engineering positions and construction positions, planners and architectural positions as well as positions in the water and sanitation sector, during and after the reconstruction of the dam. Not only will this mean more water for the area to use for irrigation and drinking, but more surface area for boats and paddle-surfers to explore.

The rerouting of the N7

The reconstruction of the Clanwilliam Dam will mean that the N7 highway will need to be rerouted, as some parts of it would be underwater when the dam is completed. The road was rerouted when the project was being deliberated on, so as to save time, money and effort when the dam project began in 2018.

The realignment of the N7 involved rerouting the road for about 5 kilometres, with some sections being made by cutting into rock. Temporary underpasses and a detour road which runs adjacent to the N7 close to the dam have also been built. There have also been rest areas created that give gorgeous views of the dam, and which are at a safe distance to avoid flooding when the dam is full. The Graafwater railway bridge has also been strengthened, meaning that it will be safe and secure in all types of weather. For dam construction purposes, a new 2.4 kilometre access road has been built, making construction work easier and more efficient. This road is not open to the public.

Improvements in the area

By raising the Clanwilliam Dam, the water levels in the Western Cape will improve and Day Zero could become a thought of the past. Day Zero is the day in Cape Town when all the taps will run dry due to the drought the country is experiencing. Currently, dam levels are rising and are at 61.3%. In previous years, dam levels were only reaching levels of 30%.

Because the dam has been overflowing in winter since its construction, reconstructing and making the dam larger will allow this water to be reserved and make the dam levels higher.

Another aspect of the bigger dam is that tourism numbers to the area will increase, bringing in more money and strengthening the economy of the area. More small businesses could open up in the area and the Clanwilliam Dam accommodation industry, including the Clanwilliam Hotel, will likely see an increase in guests as more people will want to see the new and improved dam. Regular visitors will return too, as there will be more opportunities for water sports, camping and family adventures.

New and improved but still beautiful and serene

The Clanwilliam Dam is one of the more scenic dams in the area. It is surrounded by gorgeous flora and fauna for visitors to enjoy, with several of the accommodation options to stay in Clanwilliam set within a short drive to the dam. There are some beautiful picnic sites to spend the day relaxing at, and you can even go out on a small boat and see the entirety of the dam up-close and personal.

Watching the sunset while sitting on the water of the Clanwilliam Dam is truly something to behold. The surrounding area is natural and rugged, making it the ideal place for a weekend picnic with the family.

It is one of the best sites to catch fish such as small-mouth bass and Clanwilliam yellowfish. Fishermen can spend hours stationed here, coming back to their families with freshly caught fish to put on the braai. Book your stay at Clanwilliam Hotel or contact Clanwilliam Hotel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to explore the town and watch the progress of the dam and see how it will positively affect the area.