Water restrictions imminent as drought takes its toll

2016-01-19 10:35
Persisting drought conditions have led to the water level at Albert Falls dam dropping to 44,51%.

Persisting drought conditions have led to the water level at Albert Falls dam dropping to 44,51%. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Water restrictions for Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas are imminent.

As Midmar dam sits at 47%, the ­lowest level recorded in years, uMgungundlovu District Municipality (uMDM) yesterday warned businesses, ratepayers and communities about “the compelling need to introduce water restrictions”.

Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee said the details of water restrictions would be made public after technical assessments were conducted. “The aim of the water restrictions would not be to penalise members of the public, but is done as a last resort in an effort to secure and maintain future water supply for our people and local businesses,” Bhamjee said. “We plead with members of the public to respect water restrictions. Members of the public should report leaks that occur in their areas as well as other wasteful water usage. Please call our toll-free number 0800 864 911 to report leaks and other water wastage. Our team will speedily attend to and act on reports made by members of the public,” he said.

Umgeni Water recently formed a Joint Operations Committee with the Msunduzi, uMgungundlovu, and eThekwini municipalities to monitor water usage and find ways to reduce the supply. The committee would meet with the Co-operative Governance Department as well as the Ugu District Municipality tomorrow to discuss the proposal of a 15% cut in water usage at homes and businesses, and 50% cuts on irrigation systems.

University of KwaZulu-Natal agrometeorology Professor Mike Savage said KZN could expect 33% to 50% of its usual rainfall.

“Our hydrometeorological models show that in summer, daily evaporation for Midmar can be as high as 8 mm — resulting in an evaporation rate that may exceed 100 mm in January. For dams to fill, the rainfall would have to exceed this, which is unlikely given the expected El Niño conditions,” he said.

“Although El Niño conditions are expected to weaken in late autumn or early winter this year, dams are only expected, to start filling again in November,” said Savage.

“Water boards and municipalities will have their work cut out in developing policies to save water and to encourage the general public to save water. It is almost too late for this to happen.”

A report by Carte Blanche on Sunday evening saw United Nations World Food Programme co-ordinator Chris Nikoi state that South Africa had lost 40 000 head of cattle last year due to the drought.

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said water is already being released from Spring Grove dam into Mearns, and this is then pumped into the Mpofana River.

This water makes its way into the ­Lions River and then into the Umgeni River and finally into Midmar dam.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

AN agrometeorological report by the South African Development Community (SADC) released last week revealed that October to December 2015 had been the driest in 35 years, based on satellite-based rainfall data.

The release by SADC spokesperson Tamuka Magadzire said the areas most affected included much of South Africa, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, as well as parts of Botswana, southern and central ­Mozambique, and southern Zambia.

“For many areas in the southern half of the region, the October-December 2015 rainfall totals were among the four driest since 1981,” said the report.

Together with poor rainfall, crop production was at an all-time low, resulting in instability regarding food security.

“Normally planting is expected to have been completed in most parts of the region by the end of December, and crop growth should be well under way,” said the report.

However, this was not the case for many parts of South Africa during last December. “The delays may result in reduced yields and areas planted, as farmers abandon planting due to the greatly reduced chances of a successful harvest,” said the report.

Vegetation in South Africa reached its lowest in 15 years, with dire implications for pasture in particular.

“Short-term forecasts through early January suggest a continuation of dry conditions over most central and southern parts of the region, except for northern South Africa, where some rainfall activity is expected,” said the report.

In South Africa, due to the poor rains, only 50% of the intended area for maize has been planted to date, according to Grain SA. The SADC report said no new maize plantings were likely even if good rain followed, as the planting window had closed. “Pasture is reported to be in poor condition in the majority of provinces, and water supply for livestock is ranging from sufficient to severe shortages in different areas.”

The reports suggests that five million tons of grain may need to be imported.

— Witness Reporter.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drought  |  water

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