Water levels drying up

2014-10-10 00:00

LOW rainfall and unseasonal high temperatures are precipitating a crisis that could see the province heading for a drought.

“In my home garden trying to keep annuals alive in small containers has been a waste of time,” said Janet Gates, chief horticulturalist at the Durban Botanic Gardens.

“A relative in the Pietermaritzburg area who planted out extensive lettuce seedlings was nearly in tears because they couldn’t keep up with the heat.”

A report delivered to the KwaZulu-Natal Executive Council by the provincial Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) said the situation was reaching crisis level.

Cogta spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said the department had contacted municipalities around the province “and in some cases we found that rivers had dried up”.

According to KZN Agricultural Union president Michael Black, while some areas are affected more than others, “no area in the province is not affected”.

He said beef and sheep farmers were the worst hit.

“They rely on natural grazing but if there is no rain there is no growth.”

Black said vegetable farmers had also been affected.

“Drought has seen them either not plant or plant smaller areas to use available water.”

According to Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder, the drought over the past five months has seen dam levels dropping.

“The intense heat has caused evaporation.”

He said there was a “crisis situation” in the South Coast area.

“The level of dams is between 10% and 30%, and there is not much water from Umgeni to supply these dams.”

Hazelmere Dam, which supplies areas north of Durban, including Inanda, is below 47%.

Harichunder said the water supplies for Durban and Pietermaritzburg are “still healthy” but if there isn’t “sufficient rain by the end of January municipalities will have to start looking at ways of reducing consumption”.

According to Gates the Durban Botanic Gardens is managing the situation. “We have been trying to cope irrigating with municipal water to keep the plants and grass alive,” she said.

“There are areas where this is difficult to carry out and they have taken strain.”

Gates said some plants had thrived “such as our water-wise plants and succulents. Our permaculture garden has fared well except for the burning of certain crops.”

The dry conditions have played havoc with the Midlands “fire season” said Doug Burden, Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct) general manager.

“It has prevented controlled burns from taking place safely, and in some cases has impacted negatively on wild fires.”

Duct chairperson Dave Still said the province is prone to experience droughts every 10 years or so.

“However, at this stage we have no reason to believe that this drought will be as bad as the droughts we experienced in the 80s and 90s.”

The KZN Executive Council will meet on October 14 to consider whether to declare a state of disaster in some areas.

• Turn the tap off between washing your face, brushing your teeth or shaving.

• Take a five-minute shower instead of taking a bath. Taking a bath uses between 80 and 150 litres of water a minute.

• Don’t flush the toilet unnecessarily. Every time the toilet is flushed, 12 litres of water is used.

• Do not over-fill your swimming pool.

• Use a bucket rather than a hose to wash your car.

• Be vigilant about fixing water leaks on your property.

• Report any leaks you see outside of your property to the municipality.

• Switch to water-efficient taps, showers and toilets.

• Convert your gardens to indigenous plants don’t require much watering.

• Install rainwater tanks and use this collected water for gardening and topping up swimming pools.

Info provided by Duct and Umgeni Water.

ACCORDING to the report delivered to the KwaZulu-Natal Executive Council by the provincial Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), the district municipalities most affected by dry conditions are uMkhanyakude, uThungulu, iLembe, Zululand, uMgungundlovu, Harry Gwala, uMzinyathi and uThukela.

“The recent data by SA Weather Services indicates that most of the areas affected have been constantly receiving less than average rainfall in the past five years,” said the report.

The dry conditions are deemed “dire” and have seen:

• Most rivers not flowing properly, with some completely drying up.

• More than 80% of boreholes as alternative water sources have dried up.

• The agriculture sector severely affected. Communal and farm dams established to cater for livestock are dry or below expected levels.

• Most water schemes implemented by municipalities severely affected.

• Increased susceptibility to runaway veld fires.

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