The government will release water from the Berg River Dam into the Misverstand Dam as a lifeline to Saldanha, whose water supply will run out in seven days.
While Cape Town's Day Zero has been pushed into 2019, Saldanha, the centre of one of the country's industrial development zones, has enough water in the Misverstand supply dam to last only until April 24, Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti said at a briefing on Tuesday.
If Misverstand Dam runs dry, Saldanha would then have to get water from the Voëlvlei Dam, which supplies 22 other West Coast towns. This would leave those towns, which include Malmesbury, Piketberg and Morreesberg, with enough water to last only until the end of the month.
The Misverstand Dam, near Piketberg, is only 13.26% full and the Voëlvlei Dam is at 13.75%.
The water crisis facing Saldanha and other West Coast towns led Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to approach national government for help.
Nkwinti said after a meeting on Friday of all levels of government, he had decided to release five million cubic metres of water from the Berg River into the Misverstand Dam. Water would be supplemented into the Berg River dam through emergency pumping from the Theewaterskloof Dam.
Food security under threat
This emergency supply would last Saldanha until July 31.
By then there should have been some rainfall in the Cape dam catchment area.
The amount of water taken from the Berg River would mean a drop of about 0.4% in the dams that supply Cape Town.
Nkwinti said the province was feeling the effects of the drought.
"As we speak there is a huge challenge in the Western Cape. Food security is under threat," the minister said.
"Based on an assessment carried out by my department with the province and municipalities, we estimate that the water from the Misverstand Dam could run out on April 24," Nkwinti said.
Risk of flooding
Anton Bredell, MEC for local government, environmental affairs and development planning, said at the briefing: "If we lose Misverstand Dam, 22 towns on the West Coast will be affected. The due date is April 24 when it will run out. Saldanha is the biggest water user. If Misverstand runs dry we would need to give Saldanha Bay water from Voëlvlei, which supplies 22 towns. So, it is better that we get water into Misverstand Dam."
The water will be released on Wednesday afternoon and will take seven days to reach Misverstand Dam, 138km from the Berg River Dam.
Nkwinti said there was a risk of local flooding from the release, and all municipalities along the Berg River had their disaster management teams on alert.
Trevor Balzer, a deputy director general at the water and sanitation department, said some of the water would be directed directly into the Berg River and some would go through Wemmershoek irrigation works.
"There could be some flooding, as we are creating an artificial flood in the river. We have initiated disaster preparedness plans in [various] municipalities.
"It will take seven days for the first water to get there and a few days more for the full five million cubic metres to get there," Balzer said.