Every drop counts: Warning issued as levels at dams plunge and little rain in sight

Poor rainfall this winter season will plunge the Eastern Cape province deeper into drought crisis, writes Asanda Nini.

This as provincial dams are drying up.

Water levels recorded this week were 9.8% lower than the same period last year when the province felt the biggest pinch of the widespread drought.

Poor rainfall this winter season will plunge the Eastern Cape province deeper into drought crisis

This was revealed on Thursday by the water and sanitation department, which urged affected provincial municipalities to further tighten their water restrictions.

Water and sanitation spokesman Sputnik Ratau said if the situation continued as at present, the worst would be on the cards for the province.

“During the same period last year, the province’s dam levels stood at 66.8%.

“However, the average storage across the province this week stands at 57%,” said Ratau.

He said compared with last week, there had been a slight decrease of 0.1% in provincial dams’ capacity, a decrease that, if escalated, raised concerns of a looming full-blown drought.

In the past few years, the province encountered one of its biggest and most crippling droughts, which saw its projected rural maize production tumble by more than 56% and prices shooting up by 75%.

The resulting shortage of maize reduced animal feed and resulted in 14000 livestock dying.

This forced rural development and agrarian reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane to allocate R95-million for drought relief programmes in the 2016-17 financial year.

Ratau further said provincial dams supplying the province’s only two metros – Buffalo City Metro (BCM) and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro (NMBM) – were not spared from the looming disaster.

The department’s Amathole system, which also supplies BCM dams, Ratau said, dropped its levels to 65.3%, while this time last year it stood at 84.0%.

This week, Ratau said, the Amathole system decreased by 0.1% compared with last week.

The dams supplied by the Amathole system are Laing Dam, which by July 3 stood at 101.1%, Nahoon (48.9%), Bridle Drift (40.3%), Rooikrantz (88.9%), Gubu ( 93.5%) and Wriggleswade, which is at 84.2%.

Last week, BCM implemented water restriction and higher punitive tariffs.

BCM’s move came after the Amathole District Municipality had already embarked on such a water saving strategy.

The department said water levels at OR Tambo district’s Mthatha Dam stood at 98.5%, 26.3% at Nqadu Dam, 99% at Mabeleni Dam, and 0.9% at Corana Dam.

Ratau said the department’s water supply systems also showed that five dams under the Algoa system, which serves NMBM, this week also dropped to 34.7%, compared to 73.7% this time last year.

Compared with last week, Ratau said the Algoa system, which services dams such as the Kouga, Loerie, Groendal and Impofu dams, had dropped its water capacity by 0.5%.

“In order to ease the pressure placed on our water supply, municipalities in the affected areas must continue implementing water restrictions for the foreseeable future.

“Such water restrictions should be implemented in various stages, while the department encourages all water users to conserve water to meet the needs of current and future generations,” Ratau said.

Agri-Eastern Cape president Doug Stern said the situation in the province “was critical” and that decreasing dam levels “were a huge worry, especially in the western parts of the province”.

“There is basically a crisis looming for agriculture in the province,” Stern said.

“In many parts of the province, the effects of the recent drought are still being felt even today.”

He singled out the Sarah Baartman region as one of the “hardest hit districts” in the province, saying they have been calling for government to declare it a disaster area.

Meanwhile, DA MPL Veliswa Mvenya said Butterworth residents continue “to face a daily struggle” for water, despite promises by premier Phumulo Masualle in his state of the province address in February of a budget allocation of R1-billion for drought mitigation, which included the drilling of additional boreholes and desilting of dams.

“The area’s Gcuwa and Xilinxa dams are in desperate need of desilting. Silt-levels in both dams are estimated to be at 40%, which means that any rainfall in the area cannot be utilised effectively.

“Taps have been dry for months and the dam levels are low.

“Drains are smelling and people share unpalatable, dirty water with animals.

“Even this water is hard to find as people have to look for it outside their residential areas,” said Mvenya.