Municipality spokesperson Yoliswa Ramakolo says only prolonged heavy rain, which is not forecast, could save the situation.
On the contrary, there is a prediction of lower-than-usual rainfall in the coming year.
If the municipality is correct, the water shortage could impact on the 10-day National Arts Festival (NAF), which kicks off on July 29. There have been water restrictions in place in Grahamstown since February last year, but Ramakolo said the dam levels were now so low they were deeply concerned.
She said the municipality was working with the water and sanitation department, Rhodes University’s Institute for Water Research, Amatola Water and other community stakeholders to address the situation.
“The fact is that Settlers Dam, our biggest dam, is down at 34% and we cannot pump it using the normal pumps much below 30%.”
Even with other smaller dams in play, she said that at current consumption rates the municipality predicted there was just three to four months’ supply left.
Ironically, Grahamstown has plenty of water available from the Orange River scheme. But, Ramakolo said it was not easy to get this water to the whole city.
She said Grahamstown drew its water from two sources, one west of the city and one to the east. The dams supplying the western half of the city are chronically low. The eastern part is fed by the Orange river and the water is pumped via Makana’s James Kleynhans pumping station.
While that supply is secure, Ramakolo says the water demand, even just in Grahamstown east, far exceeds the production capacity of the plant. The municipality is already forced to “throttle” the Botha Hill reservoir, which feeds the area during the night to cope with demand.
The plant is being upgraded to improve its water treatment capacity from the current 10 megalitres a day to 20Ml/day.
She said that although there was a connecting pipe that could transfer water treated in the east to the west, the eastern half of the city was using water supplied by James Kleynhans at full capacity. “This means water can only be transferred by leaving the eastern side short of water.”
She said the municipality had embarked on a publicity campaign to ensure people reduced consumption, stopped leaks and took action, including installing tanks to collect rainwater.
NAF CEO Tony Lankester said yesterday they were aware of the supply issues due to the drought and were talking to the municipality about contingency plans.
Rhodes University, probably the biggest single user of water in the western half of the city, also stands to be directly affected by a prolonged supply issue.
The university had not responded to questions at the time of going to print.
By Adrienne Carlisle – DispatchLIVE