Led by ASCE President, Delegation Visits S. Africa
To Honor Dam as Civil Engineering Landmark

 


In the 1870s, Cape Town, South Africa, found itself in a water-supply crisis as a result of its rapid growth. After determining that a dam built on nearby Table Mountain would create a reservoir that could supply the burgeoning city, officials turned to young Scottish hydraulic engineer Thomas Stewart to design and construct the dam. Stewart and his crew overcame the challenges of getting material and equipment up the mountain, and after three years, Woodhead Dam was completed in 1897.

Some 110 years later, the masonry marvel that still helps supply water to Cape Town was named an ASCE International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Following through on the honor, an ASCE delegation including President David G. Mongan and Executive Director Patrick J. Natale traveled to the southern tip of Africa to present an official ASCE plaque on August 1 to Cape Town and other South African representatives.

At the presentation ceremony, ASCE President Mongan hailed the Woodhead Dam and talked about what made it worthy of designation as an ASCE international landmark. Here are highlights of his remarks.

Woodhead Dam, atop Table Mountain near Cape Town, South Africa "For more than 40 years, ASCE has recognized civil engineering achievements that have played a unique role in the development of our nation and the world as Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks. To date, 244 projects worldwide have earned this prominent designation, one that illustrates the pioneering spirit of civil engineers. This elite group includes such famous landmarks as the Panama Canal, the Washington Monument, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam, as well as such lesser-known, but equally important engineering achievements as the Granite Railway -- the first commercial railway in the United States.

"ASCE is proud to recognize the Woodhead Dam on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. This impressive structure, built between 1894 and 1897, was the first significant masonry dam constructed in Southern Africa. After years of inadequate supply, the dam provided sufficient water supply to Cape Town to enable the city to avert water shortages. It was the first major work of Thomas Stewart, regarded at the father of consulting engineering in South Africa. This inventive hydraulic engineer was responsible for ensuring water supply to the many towns and villages that were springing up as a result of the economic upturn in the colony, following the discovery of diamonds.

"The dam is situated on the 'back table' of the world-renowned Table Mountain. Considering its location, the dam was a bold venture built through complex and creative means under difficult conditions. Men and materials were transported to the dam site by a cableway built for the project. The completion of the dam paved the way for the sister dams of Table Mountain to be constructed. Today the Woodhead Dam contributes to the total water supply for Cape Town via a tunnel through the mountain range. The original tunnel, competed in 1891, was a visionary undertaking in a country where technology was in infancy. As civil engineers, we take great pride in designing and building facilities that become legacies in cities around the world.

"I would like to wholeheartedly like to thank the South African Institution of Civil Engineering for nominating this structure as an International Civil Engineering Landmark and for hosting this event today. Civil engineers are not usually in the spotlight when the water is flowing, sewage is being treated, and roads and buildings are standing safe and secure, so it is a great pleasure to be able to recognize a project that represents the wisdom of civil engineers and embodies the meticulous principles of dam engineering.

"Please join me in celebrating the dedication of the Woodhead Dam as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. I present this plaque on behalf of ASCE to the dedicated representatives who serve as stewards of this remarkable civil engineering achievement."