SAICE has decided to institute a series of engineering landmarks to celebrate civil engineering works of historic significance. These works should generally still be in existence, should be over 100 years old, and should have made a notable contribution to the welfare and economy of a community.

The purpose of these awards is to publicise engineers and their achievements, and to encourage preservation of these historic projects. The awards follow the pattern and criteria of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ International Landmarks – the Woodhead Dam on Table Mountain was granted this status in 2008. After considering various projects the History and Heritage Panel of SAICE decided to make the first of these awards to the Van Stadens Weir and Dam outside Port Elizabeth.

A recurring problem in Algoa Bay

Port Elizabeth has suffered from an unreliable water supply from its founding in 1820. After private suppliers made various attempts to serve the town from wells and springs, the Town Council decided to develop a source on the Van Stadens River.

The Colonial Hydraulic Engineer, John Gamble MICE, identified a site for a weir in 1877 and appointed 26-year old John Hamilton Wicksteed AMICE as Resident Engineer. Under his meticulous direction, and in difficult conditions, the weir was completed and a 47 km long pipeline laid to Port Elizabeth. There were great celebrations in the town when the scheme was officially opened in June 1881.

By 1890 it was apparent that a dam would be necessary to store water for those times when the flow of the river would be insufficient to meet the demand. Thomas Stewart MICE, who had recently established the first South African consulting engineering practice in Cape Town, was appointed to design the dam, intake and filtration plant, and to arrange to build the works. The complex was completed in 1893.

The supply to Port Elizabeth was improved by installing a pumping station in 1898. The dam is 50 ft (15 m) high and holds 30 million gallons (about 136 000 kilolitres). The entire scheme was one of the first major properly engineered water supply projects in South Africa and the dam is one of the first major such constructions in the country. The full story of the Van Stadens Waterworks complex will appear in the April 2011 edition of Civil Engineering.

The plaque recording the award will be unveiled and presented to the Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality by Seetella Makhetha, SAICE 2011 President, at a ceremony on 1 March.

Invitation to nominate historic engineering

SAICE members are invited to nominate Southern African engineering works for consideration as Historic Engineering Landmarks. Projects should comply with the following:

  • They should be approximately 100 years old.
  • They should originally have made a significant contribution to contemporary infrastructure.
  • They should still be in existence and preferably performing a useful purpose.
  • They should be reasonably accessible to the public.
  • They should have their history, including personalities involved, reliably recorded in reasonable detail.

Nominations with a brief description and motivation should be sent to Marie Ashpole (mashpole@saice.org.za). It is not necesssary to include all the above information at the time of nomination. There is no time limit for submissions.

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