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The Montagu Leiwater Gebruikersvereniging/Users' Association

Leiwater canalLeiwater (channelled water) is water fed to properties in a town for irrigation use. Each property with leiwater access has a beurt (turn) every week. The leiwater in Montagu is channelled from the Keisie River. Many of the properties in Montagu are smallholdings supporting working farms (olives, pecan nuts, citrus, sheep etc.). Most members have a water-collection point too (dams, tanks, fish ponds) to store water for the rest of the week. All water not used goes back into the river, so none of it is wasted.

Unlike most of the surrounding towns, the Montagu leiwater system is run entirely by the residents, not the municipality. For this reason, we have the Montagu Leiwater Gebruikersvereniging/Users' Association. Even though the municipality uses our canals for storm water, they do not contribute anything to maintenance of the canals, though they do help with keeping the leidam area tidy.

The Leiwater Committee ensures that the system is kept running smoothly, and carries out maintenance as required, including flood-damage repairs.

Leiwater users can be recognised by this sign:

Leiwater sign Montagu

Church Street channelThe System & its History

The original Montagu leiwater system was constructed prior to 1854. Today, after nearly 170 years the system still supplies irrigation water to the residential erven and smallholdings on the downstream watererwe. Read more...

Sacred IbisThe Leidam

The dam is our storage point in the town. It is home to an internationally acclaimed heronry, which can be easily viewed from the bird hide. Read more...

The System & its History

contributions by Mike Worthington-Jones, Heinie Heydenrych, Piet Nel, Martin & Wilhelmien van Zyl, Marion Maclean and Richard Knipe (so far). If you have any info to add/amend, please email Marion.

The original Montagu leiwater system, constructed prior to 1854, was made up of three parts, and would have been the priority construction for the town's settlers. Securing water availability was the most important thing for a new town and its farming activities.

Most of the town erven that were the first subdivisions of the farm Uitvlucht (subdivided between 1851 and 1854) were dependent on the system for irrigation water. The system was served by three sources. One from the Keisie River and two from the Kingna. The Kingna dried up in the winter months after Poortjieskloof Dam was constructed (about 1950)). The dam was too small, and the wastage too large, for earthen furrows, so the farmers built a concrete canal in the late 1950s with the help of a loan from Water Affairs. The dam wall was raised in the early 1960s.

Section one started in Lovers' Walk where the Keisie River was dammed, and a conduit went to Montagu West. This original conduit still serves Montagu West and runs in front of Montagu Vines. Another conduit was taken from the river and lead to Bath Street, then west to Rose Street and back into the river where the Kloof Padstal is now. This served the oldest houses in town behind the Pastorie.

The 1854 map includes the roads and cattle paths to water.

1854 map of Montagu

Section two was on the Kingna River, where it was dammed at the confluence of Joubertspoort and Kingna (just past Ashbury). There are still remains of the concrete furrow (about 2 m wide and 1 m deep) on this farm, and the earthen furrow below the municipal yard. The later Poortjieskloof concrete furrow went under MAG and Montagu Kelder, then lead past the current Eskom site, across the current rugby field (the land was higher then), into Bath Street at the current Vic Hotel, then down Church Street (old clay pits, now tennis courts) into Seven Church Street Guesthouse and ended at Joubert House (part of our Montagu Museum now). This water served the farms Prospect and Tussenberge at the eastern bridge on Long Street.

Section three was also on the Kingna River where the waters were dammed near the current Mandela Square. A conduit led under Knipe's Koppie to the area now Montagu Dried Fruit. This earthern furrow served the farm La Prière (formerly Knipe's Hope).

Every residential stand sold between 1851 and 1854 had a clause written into its title deed that it was entitled to one hour’s irrigation water. That is why these erven today still have irrigation rights (leibeurte) although the original water rights lapsed with the passing of the National Water Act, 1998 (Act No. 36, 1998).

In 1851 Ds van der Merwe sold his farm Uitvlucht for the purpose of creating a town. The erven North of Bath Street were known as the droëerwe because they lie higher than the canals. The erven that received water (between Bath Street and the Kingna, and some parts of Montagu West) were known as the watererwe. It is not certain when the Leidam was constructed, probably around the late 1850s or 1860. Bath Street was constructed more or less parallel to the Kingna River with a gradual slope from the dam to facilitate the natural flow of the irrigation water. A furrow was constructed in the 1850s that ran the length of Bath Street, with secondary furrows leading off it for each of the roads on the grid. Parts of this system now run underground, sometimes under buildings and pavements.

There was a furrow from Donkerkloof to the Keisie which was replaced with a pipe in 1950. The pipe was destroyed in the flood of February 1982, and was replaced with a properly laid trench system. This was partly subsidised by the Disaster Fund, and the rest contributed by the members. The hail storm and flood of March 2019 broke the pipe in several places, and washed away the road. We will replace the pipe once the road is repaired - hopefully within the next two months.

The Ashton Station's water was from a kloof above the old tollhouse in Cogmanskloof, now serving the first farm Goree with drinking water. There were also concrete tanks with tin rooves (now gone) at Hodges Bridge that served the Station.

When the town was later laid out in a grid pattern, roads were graded to accommodate the leiwater system (example Church street from Long Street to the river).

Our current system only takes water from Section one, and services many properties in Montagu central and Montagu west.

Originally, the water rights were shared 50/50 by the landowners and the municipality.

Our leiwater system is far more extensive than most people are aware of. Mike Worthington-Jones estimates that we have 100-150 km of pipes and canals. Some even go under rivers and pop out the other side. Some farmers dig up the concrete channels and install piping instead.

Current watererwe

The current system takes water from several streams in Donkerkloof, and the pipes, valves, canals and covers are all maintained by the Montagu Leiwater Gebruikersvereniging committee and users. At an early stage, a water furrow was built from Donkerkloof to the Keisie River to supplement the water from the Keisie River.

Donkerkloof catchment

Map showing the extent of the catchment for leiwater in Donkerkloof (by Richard Knipe).
Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Church Street channel

Photo of the leiwater channel which can be seen outside what is now Mimosa Lodge in Church Street. The municipality purchased a strip in front of all houses 2 m wide (was probably 6 Cape feet) and this is the present pavement.

Today, after nearly 170 years the leiwater system still supplies irrigation water on a carefully monitored basis to the residential erven and smallholdings between Bath Street and the Kingna River and in a section of Montagu West.

The current feeder channel running southward from the Old Mill in Montagu West along Lovers’ Walk adjacent to the cliff, is the same one that can be clearly seen on a map of 1856 in the state archives. The story goes that Roelf du Toit (of the Barrydale du Toits) farmed with horses at one stage. When the British military wanted to seize his horses for military purposes during the Anglo-Boer War, which they could do in terms of Martial Law that existed at the time, he refused. He was arrested and he and his son had to help build Lovers' Walk as part of his punishment. It would not have been possible to construct the leivore if Lovers' Walk was not there because the water has to run downhill. A case of No Lovers' Walk, no leivore.

Entrance to Lovers' Walk

The channel was severely damaged during the flash flood of 1981 (the 'Laingsburg Floods' which claimed the lives of 13 Montaguers). It was rebuilt and forms part of the beautiful walk between the town and the starting point of many of the region’s magnificent mountain hiking trails.

The flood of 2008 covered the channel in thousands of cubic metres of sand. After long drawn-out deliberations with the local authority (which came to naught) and great expense to the members of the Vereniging, we managed to get the water furrows cleared and repaired. We now have a flood fund for future flood-damage repairs.

Municipal water sources

{Not a part of the leiwater system, but interesting anyway.}

Kruis - Water is drawn from the river above Kruis (where Die Stal restaurant is on the Koo road). This serves Badshoogte, Bergsig and Ashbury. Ashbury was started in 1982.

Keurkloof - water is drawn from the Cogmanskloof River near Aasvoëlskrans and stored in a dam in Montagu-South near the High School.


Breede River Redfin (Pseudobarbus burchelli)

The varswaterkloof is in the Langeberg on the Rietrivier, east of Montagu (the entrance is next to the farm Octavia). Back in the day (1970s) the municipality bought all the farms that this mountain-runoff stream runs through, created a servitude, and then sold all the farms again. This was to ensure a supply of fresh water to the town. And this perennial stream feeds the town still. The water is crystal clear, and supports the endangered Breede River Redfin (Pseudobarbus burchelli). This water is for household use rather than the irrigation water of the leiwater system. It is stored in two dams above the Montagu Nature Garden.

Kloof boreholes - In 1984 boreholes were sunk in Donkerkloof and Badskloof to add to the scarce supply. Originaly, the municipality was included on the Cogmanskloof Irrigation Board, but opted out at a late stage for fear of high running costs. Ten years later, in association with Ashton municipality, they had to build their own pipeline from the Breede River to cater for the town's needs.

The Leidam

Montagu Leidam - photo by Willie Long

The dam is a storage point to ensure water availability during the day. Originally, the leiwater system ran straight from the streams, and users had their beurte 24 hours a day. This meant that some people had to get up at night to take their turns. The dam allows storage of water in the town so that the users can all take water during daylight hours, and the dam then fills up during the night. Luxury!

There are three valves at the dam, which serve different streets in the town. Every year the system is shut down for a week or two for Winter Maintenance. The dam is emptied so that we can remove excess watergrass and reeds, and to clear debris from the outlet pipes and repair valves. There is always some water left in the bottom of the dam for the frogs and fish.

Leidam Birds 1

The dam is surrounded by several large soetdoring (Vachellia (Acacia) karroo) trees and reedbeds. The vegetation supports a wide range of breeding and foraging birds. This has become an international birding attraction. The Montagu Eco-Club erected a beautiful hide, which is a great viewing platform. The bird hide officially opened on 29 October 2009. The project was funded entirely by the townspeople, with major shares donated by the Montagu Leiwater Gebruikersvereniging, Rotary and Lions.

Leidam Birds 2

The dam is easily accessible, right in the centre of town on the corner of Barry & Bath Street. There is a resident heronry, and other nesting birds in the reedbed. You can download the Full Birdlist (.xls). If you have any sightings of new birds, please let us know. And, even better, load photos of them on iNaturalist. See the birds (and other beasties) in our collection of sightings on iNaturalist.

Leidam Birds 3

For other attractions in Montagu, visit the Montagu site.

Leiwater Committee

Richard Knipe, Barry Shaw, Tian van Heerden, Kallie Laubscher, Andrew Hare, Reneé Hennig, Jeroen Greveling, Swannie Swanepoel, Neels Burger.

Please contact our Secretary/Treasurer, Marion Maclean, if you have any queries or suggestions.

Map of Montagu's leiwater sections

The Leiwater system is divided into five sections. Each section has a Section Rep who is the first point of contact for queries and help.

orangeboxLong Street West (Long Street from Keisie/Kingna confluence to Barry Street) ~ Reps: Jeroen Greveling & Tian van Heerden

greenboxRose Street (Keisie boundary, Rose Street and Bath Street to west Barry Street) ~ Reps: Kallie Laubscher & Barry Shaw

yellowboxChurch Street (east Barry Street to Kohler Street, and down to Kingna River) ~ Reps: Andrew Hare & Reneé Hennig

pinkboxLong Street East (du Toit Street east and south to Kingna River) ~ Rep: Richard Knipe

blueboxOudam (Montagu West) ~ Rep: Swannie Swanepoel