KZN water supply warning

2019-02-19 16:19


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KwaZulu-Natal’s water security is under threat with the province’s critical catchment in the Drakensberg area having recently experienced the driest December and January since 1948.

One of the dams hardest hit by the below average rainfalls in the catchment is Albert Falls, the largest dam in Umgeni Water’s operational area.

Msunduzi and the water utility have made an appeal to consumers to use water sparingly even though restrictions were lifted by the national government in August last year.

Four years ago, Umgeni Water implemented water restrictions of 15% in a bid to conserve water due to the province’s crippling drought.

On Monday acclaimed hydrology expert Dr Michele Warburton told The Witness that the Cathedral Peak’s situation was concerning.

The researcher with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) — which has been monitoring the Peak catchment since the 1940s — said “the area was crucial for KZN’s water supply”.

“This past December was our driest December on record — since we started monitoring in 1948.”

She said the situation did not improve much in January even though it was raining buckets in other parts of the province.

“South Africa has a highly variable rainfall pattern, that is part of the country’s climate,” she said in response to why the catchments were not getting enough rain.

Warburton said the Drakensberg catchment had the massive capacity to store enough water which is slowly released to keep the rivers flowing throughout the dry seasons.

“What’s concerning about not having enough rains in December and January is that, as we move into the dry period, there might not be enough reserves.”

She said there had been some rain this month and the SAEON was monitoring the situation but they did not know if the catchment was going to get enough water stored to see the province through winter.

Warburton said the other worry was that the Peak is experiencing longer dry seasons as recent data — when compared to historical records — indicated that even the month of September was no longer getting enough rainfall.

Spokesperson for Umgeni Water, Shami Harichunder, said the total amount of water resource in the Mgeni System as at February 13 was at 67%.

“This represents the average amount of water available in the entire system, and it has to be 67% and more in order to obviate the need to apply mandatory water curtailment measures.”

This is the largest system in KZN and supplies an estimated total of six million consumers in uMgungundlovu, Msunduzi as well as parts of eThekwini and Ugu.

Harichunder said the stakeholders attending last week’s meeting of the Mgeni System Joint Operating Committee — which includes the Department of Water and Sanitation as well as affected municipalities — noted that while there had been marginal improvement in the level of Albert Falls Dam — when compared to 2016 — its current level “remains of great concern”.

“Albert Falls is the largest dam in Umgeni Water’s operational area and it provides the water needs of a significant part of the eThekwini region.

“Its current low level has it made it necessary to pump water from Inanda Dam in order to augment resources.”

On whether there would be adequate supply until the next summer rains, Harichunder said the status of water resources in the Mgeni system would be reviewed extensively in May through the application of hydrological models.

“The outcomes of this process will provide clear pointers on the current level of storage in the entire system and whether restrictions should be considered or not in order to ensure that available water resources last until the next rains and when the levels of dams begin rising again.”

Hydrological models are run in May because this is considered the beginning of the dry season.

Looking at other parts of KZN, Harichunder said in the middle South Coast, within Ugu District, the EJ Smith and Mhlabatshane dams were at 86% and 89, 4%, respectively, on February 14, while two other dams there were full to capacity at 100% each.

“While water resources are in abundance at this stage to meet local demand, it must not be forgotten that these are small dams that empty out as quickly as they fill up.

“It is also important to note that the dry season will begin in March and there are predictions of below-normal rainfall for the South Coast. Therefore, consumers must use water sparingly.”

In the north of eThekwini and in iLembe District, Harichunder said there was sufficient water to meet local consumption presently and in the near future. The Hazelmere Dam — which supplies Tongaat and surrounding areas — was at 45% and iMvutshane Dam in Maphumulo was at 53,9%.

The Home Farm Dam in Ixopo, within Harry Gwala District, was at 96,4% at the end of last week.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drought; water crisis

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