Western Cape R295m 'day zero' water plan kicks in

2017-08-31 21:19
The City of Cape Town's largest storage dam, the Theewaterskloof dam. (Supplied)

The City of Cape Town's largest storage dam, the Theewaterskloof dam. (Supplied)

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Cape Town - The Western Cape government is implementing a R295m emergency programme to get through the drought disaster and avoid ''Day Zero'', Premier Helen Zille said on Thursday.

“This drought is one of biggest disasters that has hit the province for a very long time and, despite predictions to the contrary, it has been a very low rainfall year,” Premier Helen Zille told reporters in Cape Town.

Between 2014 and the present, the province's dams have gone from overflowing to about 32% capacity. With spring heralding the end of the winter rainfall period, residents' long baths and watering of gardens are not the only things at stake.

An estimated 17 000 jobs in the agricultural industry could be lost. An estimated 10% drop in agricultural output would cost the economy R3.2bn, provincial agriculture department head Joyene Isaacs said.

The drought has resulted in reduced agricultural activity and less demand for workers. Seasonal workers would be the first to be turned away, she warned.

The lack of fodder would leave livestock vulnerable to diseases such as blowfly and avian influenza, and higher incidences of pests and bacteria in crops.

A total of 24 outbreaks of avian flu have been reported in South Africa this year. The Western Cape has been flagged as one of the regions of a localised outbreak. South Africa is one of 47 countries globally battling the H5N8 virus since January.

The only silver lining is that the next wine crop will likely be of exceptional quality, said Isaacs. However, table grapes will suffer.

According to economic development MEC Alan Winde, the worst-case scenario could be a total ban on irrigation during summer, raising job losses to 20 000.

The Springfontein and Gamka dams, near Beaufort West, are already empty, said local government department head, Graham Paulse.

The R295m will allow the provincial government to take extraordinary measures to get through province through summer into the winter of 2018. Normal rainfall might resume then. The figure includes R75m national government has made available.

Work has already started on equipping and commissioning five boreholes, to connect them to the reclamation plant to supply Beaufort West with water.

The river at the Kannaland extraction point, in the Central Karoo, is dry. Another 12 boreholes there are supplying water.

The Akkerkloof dam in the Knysna municipality is 30% full and has 21 days of water left. Upgrades to the Charlesford dam experienced a severe setback when pipes were destroyed in the June fires.

“We are one step away from level 5 emergency restrictions,” said Colin Deiner, head of disaster management in the province.

Cape Town and surrounding municipalities are at level 4 restrictions, which limit household water use to drinking, washing, and cooking.

Deiner recently oversaw emergency responses to fires that decimated at least 150 000 hectares in the province.

“We are in a pretty dire situation now with the sheer volume of disasters,” he said.

Another 11 municipalities have been added to the disaster focus list for either hydrological or drought disasters. They are: Drakenstein, Saldanha Bay, Matzikama, Swartland, Hessequa, Mossel Bay, Oudtshoorn, Kannaland, George, Langeberg, and Beaufort West.

Municipalities will be asked to supply their water supply situation, and their water management plans and, if necessary, be told to tighten their water restrictions.

Deiner said there will be planning exercises for “Day Zero”, when the province’s water runs out. Sites are being identified where private contractors, municipalities, and the SA National Defence Force will deliver water by tankers.

Experts are exploring the use of emergency water purification systems, akin to those used by the army.

In the meantime, the City of Cape Town has issued tenders for three desalination plants, as part of plans to bring another 500 million litres (ML) of water into the system.

Current water use in the city is 599ML per day. The city wants to bring this down to 500ML.

Zille said there is no need to panic.

Plans are underway to “expertly” tap aquifers, and for desalination plants to be built. Licences for new boreholes have finally been granted after delays in issuing them were raised with President Jacob Zuma this week.

Zille said that within 24 hours of bringing the delays to Zuma's attention, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane approved them from Sweden, where she was attending a conference.

Read more on:    cape town  |  drought  |  water

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