Water crisis: Day Zero looming?

2018-01-25 06:01

The water crisis in the Eastern Cape is deepening as dam levels across the province drop drastically, with Nelson Mandela Bay metropole and numerous towns at risk of running out of water.

The Kouga Municipality has already indicated that at least two towns, Hankey and Patensie, face water shedding, while the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality is considering further punitive water restrictions.

The combined dam capacity of the Algoa water supply system, which supplies the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and surrounds, has dropped to its lowest ever level of just 25.6%, dropping 0.7% in a week.

The largest dam of the Algoa water supply system is the Kouga dam, which has dropped to a mere 7.9% of its total capacity. This is the lowest level ever recorded for the dam, which is the key supply dam for the Kouga Municipality and surrounding farmers. Last year this time, it was 44.6% full.

Nothing on Day Zero yet

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality said nothing has been confirmed yet around Day Zero - the day the dams run dry.

In a statement last month, the municipality said current water consumption could see the city’s dams run dry by August, while the SA Weather Service was forecasting significant rains only in October.

This would leave the metro dependent on the Nooitgedacht scheme, which supplies about half of the city’s water. The scheme sources water from the Gariep Dam, through the Sundays River Valley.

“There are serious discussions within infrastructure and engineering led by mayoral committee member, Councillor Masixolo Zinto, in relation to the current dam levels and the implications they bring,” said municipal spokesperson, Mthubanzi Mniki.

Losing water: Failing infrastructure

In the midst of the crisis, failing infrastructure across the metro is adding to the municipality’s woes, with almost half of the water produced being lost.

A mid-term report for the 2017/18 financial year, compiled by the municipality, showed that the metro lost 45% of its water supply in the five months to November last year. This includes water supplied but not paid for, such as water bill write-offs over the basic free allocation to assistance to the poor residents.

The municipality tabled a R1.6bn 10-year plan last year to bring water losses, then recorded at 38%, down to 20%. It also aimed to have physical water losses through leaks, recorded at 30%, brought down to 15% - the upper limit of international best practice.

Towns exceed allocated quotas

Kouga Executive Mayor Elza van Lingen said the towns of Hankey and Patensie had just about used up their water quotas for the financial year, ending in June.

“The latest readings in December indicated that Hankey had only 9% of its quota left and Patensie 36%,” she said.

Hankey and Patensie both receive their bulk raw water from the Gamtoos government water scheme, which is administered by the Gamtoos Irrigation Board. The scheme includes the Kouga Dam and the downstream canal system.

Alternative water solutions sought

Van Lingen said the Kouga Municipality was working around the clock, trying to secure more water sources for its residents.

“Three new boreholes were drilled at Oyster Bay. The yield, at about two litres per second, is low, but this assisted the town in coping with the holiday influx,” she said.

The town has two existing boreholes and a spring and does not rely on Nelson Mandela Bay-controlled dams for supply.

Van Lingen said they were drilling two new boreholes in Jeffreys Bay while one was being rehabilitated.

She said the municipality was also investigating desalination as an option to solve the water crisis facing Kouga, and would be appointing a consultant shortly to assist.

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