‘Rains not enough’

2019-04-18 12:56


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While KwaZulu-Natal has received above-average rainfall for February and March, there are lingering concerns about possible water shortages over winter.

An assessment will be done next month to determine if new restrictions are needed. Most parts of the province experienced a major drought from the start of 2015 into 2017, with some areas, such as Greytown, running out of drinking water completely.

Farmers from across the province, especially those in Zululand, were severely affected and were kept afloat by donations of hay, other fodder, water and other supplies that streamed in from generous locals and organisations.

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said it was only at the beginning of 2018 that the affected areas of KZN began emerging from the drought. He said good rainfall had been recorded in the upper Mgeni System catchments (Drakensberg region) from November 2018 to date.

Harichunder said rain in February 2019 “alone has been slightly above average for a similar period last year”.

He said this had helped the Mgeni System, but rainfall had not reached the point where they would like it to be.

Dargle farmer Robin Barnsley said the recent rains had been good, although still not enough for the summer season.

“I feel the dams downstream of Midmar are not as full as they should be as the rainy season has lagged behind what it should have been.

“Because we have been a bit short of rain this season, we have not yielded as much veld grass as hoped.

“It is long but the bulk is not there because of the rain shortage.”

Barnsley said farming areas inland were starting to look good but the urban areas “are not out of the woods yet as there is not enough flow-through of water”.

Researcher Michele Warburton said the South African Environmental Observation Network (Saeon) has been monitoring the catchment areas in the Drakensberg. “For March, the long-term average rainfall is about 190 mm, but we only received 73 mm this March. The rainfall received in January and February was also below the long-term averages.

“We are concerned that the soil and ground water reserves that see us through the dry winter months have not been topped up enough this summer.”

Harichunder said the total water storage in the Mgeni System is at 71%, which is an improvement from the past few months.

He said Umgeni Water and the Department of Water and Sanitation will be running tests next month to determine whether restrictions are needed to ensure there is enough water available until the next rains.

“Water resources will be adequate if used sparingly. If raw water quality deteriorates, it impacts on the cost of treatment and ultimately on tariffs,” said Harichunder. “It is important that everything possible must be done to prevent pollution of our water resources in all catchments, rivers and streams.”

The South African Weather Service (Saws) said the El Niño-Southern Oscillation has strengthened slightly towards an El Niño phase over the last month, indicating there may be below-normal rainfall totals.

“As before, it is still predicted to last for the rest of summer and most of autumn.”

Saws said it is unclear what conditions to expect late in autumn, however, rainfall totals are expected to deteriorate during the change of seasons from summer to autumn in the summer rainfall regions. This is due to the El Niño effect.

“Forecasts do indicate above-normal rainfall during autumn for parts of the southern coastal areas, which are currently in dire need of water resources,” said Saws.

“Caution is still advised when using the current forecast, and conservative planning is recommended.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  water shortage

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