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Upper Usutu

In Numbers

The Upper Usutu is a trans-boundary water source area located mainly in Mpumalanga and partly in Swaziland. It supplies much of the water required for Eskom’s coal-fired power stations in Mpumalanga.

Size: 603 079 ha

Main Rivers

The Usuthu River flows from this water source area, through Swaziland and into Mozambique. The headwaters of the Upper Usutu also feed the Vaal River system.

Did You Know?

  • The Upper Usutu, together with the Upper Vaal, Northern Drakensberg and Maloti Drakensberg supports South Africa’s economic hub, the Gauteng city-region and more than 13 million people.
  • It supplies up to 44% of the water used by Eskom for cooling its coal-fired power stations.
  • Commercial forestry is the main economic activity in the area.


Land Use (in %)

  • Mining 0.13%
  • Wetlands 5.73%
  • Urban 2.41%
  • Cultivation (irrigated) 0.42%
  • Waterbodies 1.40%
  • Plantation/Woodlot 40.30%
  • Cultivation (dryland) 7.06%
  • Natural 42.56%

<0.1 % Protected Areas

Less than 0.1% of this water source area is under formal protection. A few private nature reserves fall within the Upper Usutu. These cover less than 0.5% of the water source area.

Threat Status

Only 43% of this water source area is in natural condition. The largest land-use modifier is commercial forestry plantations which cover 40% of the area. The Upper Usutu contains irreplaceable critical biodiversity areas, particularly wetlands and river floodplains.


Only 43% of the Upper Usutu is in natural condition and 0.03% is formally protected. The largest land-use modifier in this water source area is plantations (40%). Which legal mechanisms may be used to maintain the healthy functioning of the Upper Usutu in view of intense forestry and threats such as land degradation and alien invasive vegetation?

Interactive Map

South Africa has 22 water source areas spread across five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo). The total size of our water source areas is 12.32 million hectares. A number of these areas extend and are shared with Lesotho and Swaziland; approximately 1.91 million hectares in Lesotho and 0.93 million hectares in Swaziland.

The total volume of water supplied by these areas per year is approximately 2 457 million cubic metres. The greatest volume of recharge is generated by the Southern Drakensberg, followed by the Eastern Cape Drakensberg and the Boland Mountains.