'Disaster' looms for farmers and workers as Eastern Cape dam could run dry in 3 months

Water levels in dams in the Kouga district in the Eastern Cape are critically low and water could run out completely within two to three months.

According to Kouga municipal manager Charl du Plessis, the effect of the water shortage could be "disastrous" for local citrus farmers and workers who are dependent on this industry.

The Kouga Municipality is located about 80km from Port Elizabeth and includes the coastal towns of Jeffreys Bay and St Francis Bay, as well as the Gamtoos River Valley area and inland towns, such as Humansdorp.

On Sunday, News24 reported that the municipality would be cutting off water supply in the towns of Hankey and Patensie for most of the day, allowing only a few hours' access to residents during peak times in the morning and afternoon.

Water running out fast

SPECIAL REPORT: Water Crisis

On Monday, Du Plessis told News24 that dams were quickly running empty.

"The Kouga Dam, which is the critical one, is currently at 6.84%."

Other dams in the area are the Churchill Dam (15.87%) and Impofu Dam (28.82%). The current expectation is that these dams will provide water to the district for about six months.

"With current usage, the Kouga Dam's level falls by 0.7% every day. At this rate, and with no rain being expected any time soon, the dam will soon be completely dry," Du Plessis said.

A notice of water shedding issued by the Kouga Mun
(Supplied: Kouga Municipality)

In June last year, the municipality launched a borehole project to find alternative sources of water.

"In most cases, we found good water sources deep beneath the surface, around 200m to 300m deep."

These boreholes, which cost the municipality around R10m, still need to be equipped, but Du Plessis expects this to be finalised within the next 10 to 12 weeks.

Du Plessis told News24 that residents were partly to blame for the water shedding, as little had been done to save water.

"But residents won't be completely without water. We will be lowering the water pressure considerably, but we won't shut off supply."

'Disastrous' for local economy, jobs

Du Plessis says the water shortage could seriously affect the local economy.

"Many people are dependent on the citrus industry for jobs, not only on the farms but also at businesses in the towns, such as packers. A lot of seasonal workers' jobs could also be affected."

Du Plessis says the municipality has applied for financial aid from the government and expects to receive the money soon.

The municipality will supply water from 04:30 to 08:00 and again from 16:00 to 20:00 on most days, while on Wednesdays and Saturdays, water will be supplied until 11:00 to allow residents more time for washing purposes.

Water tanks will be made available in affected areas, Du Plessis said.

Many provinces, in particular the Western Cape, had experienced water shortages in recent months, leading to the implementation of severe water restrictions.

In July this year, that province experienced some relief with dam levels rising significantly owing to increased rainfall.

The Eastern Cape has the lowest dam levels in the country, News24 reported last month.

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