Water war hits boiling point

2016-06-23 14:25
Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness. (Ian Carbutt)

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Pietermaritzburg - KwaZulu-Natal's biggest cities Pietermaritzburg and Durban have engaged in an all-out battle for water.

The water shortage situation has become so severe that eThekwini and Msunduzi municipalities are now fighting for water to give to their residents.

It is feared the situation will get even worse with Umgeni hydrologists predicting that Midmar Dam will run dry by May 2017 should there be no rainfall.

Msunduzi Water Services manager Brenden Sivparsad said the “daily fight” for water has reached boiling point between managers of the two municipalities trying to obtain enough water for their residents.

In Pietermaritzburg, the World’s View reservoir supplies water to parts of Msunduzi, eThekwini and uMgungundlovu and for the past few months, the reservoir is on average only five percent full.

Sivparsad described the situation as “dire” and said although infrastructure needed to be upgraded, even the whopping R1,4 billion needed to upgrade the system “cannot divert the drought”.

“There is very little we can do. The areas affected are being starved continuously and have been subjected to water shortages for months,” Sivparsad said.

World’s View reservoir supplies water to Willowfontein, Azalea, Caluza and other areas in Greater Edendale — most of which have been without water for almost four months.

“We are very sensitive to the community in Edendale and we are doing everything we can,” Sivparsad said, adding that the city has hired 20 new water tankers.

Umgeni Water has called upon consumers to conserve water, saying residents also play a significant role in alleviating the problem.

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the prevailing and prolonged drought illustrated the vulnerability of water resources.

“It is fundamental that to make our water resources last longer; consumer behaviour and consumer attitude towards unrestrained water usage has to change, even when the drought ends,” he said.

Harichunder said although water rationing was in place and World’s View reservoir serves the three municipalities, Umgeni provides as equal a share to all “as technically possible”.

Bisley, Northdale, Pelham and Scottsville were without water yesterday due to emergency repairs on a bulk supply line.

Following rumours that municipalities have been tampering with water to garner votes, Msunduzi Municipality called the emergency media briefing yesterday to set the record straight.

“The rumours are very untrue and it would inhumane to do that to people. This misperception is a sore point and we ask people to bring their proof forward as we are trying our very best to get water to as many people as possible,” said acting city manager Sizwe Hadebe.

Sivparsad echoed Umgeni’s call to consumers to use water sparingly, saying people should “tighten their belts and prepare for the worst case scenario”.

He said the team of employees managing the water service were under continuous stress, juggling 70 reservoirs at a time.

“At times while we are balancing the reservoirs, we have to make a choice as to which area would be cut off. We do not have the luxury of storing water any longer and our infrastructure does not always allow us to take water from one area and send it to another.

“The network was not designed around people or wards, it was designed around hydraulic and supply needs,” Sivparsad said.

He explained that every area had a different demand which varies according to diameter, size and consumer demand.

Sivparsad said Msunduzi had been avoiding fully fledged water shedding by implementing sustainable operating rules. “The operating rules are helping but we will wait for the directive from Umgeni Water on whether to start water shedding,” said Sivparsad.

Umgeni Water said their hydrologists have predicted that Midmar Dam would run dry by May 2017.

Spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the calculation was based on two key factors — water savings already achieved and the worst case scenario of no rainfall.

Albert Falls and Nagle dams are predicted to reach failure point by April 2017, Inanda Dam by December 2017, and Hazelmere and Ixopo dams by February 2017. 

Failure of a dam means that the dam has ultimately run out of water and only silt remains in it. Harichunder said that if a dam fails, there will be no water to treat, and therefore no water to supply to consumers.

The level of Midmar Dam was at 45,06% yesterday. A year ago the level of this dam was at 78,95% — a drop by almost 33% that reflects the extent to which Midmar Dam catchments have been affected by the lack of rain.

The level of Albert Falls Dam was at its lowest in 20 years at 29,86% yesterday. A year ago the level of Albert Fall was at 62,2%. 

“Umgeni Water is concerned about the amount of water that remains in Albert Falls Dam. Albert Falls is a holding dam that receives its water from Midmar Dam but because of the current low level of Midmar Dam, a reduced volume has been released from it,” said Harichunder.

Albert Falls, in turn, is the main source of supply to Nagle Dam through releases. If Albert Falls Dam fails, the implications for Nagle Dam — and Durban — will be serious, said Harichunder.

The level of Hazelmere Dam continued to remain stable at 46,18% yesterday as a result of some rainfall in May.

He said the need for stringent water conservation by consumers had become imperative. 

“If this does not occur, the effects will be seen in fast reducing levels of Midmar, Albert and Nagle dams and the possibility of many parts of Pietermaritzburg and Durban facing acute water shortages,” he said.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality  |  water

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