Fruit farmers opening sluices for Cape Town


Cape Town  The fruit growers of the Groenland Water Users Association (GWUA) in the Western Cape will begin the release of between seven to 10 million cubic metres of water on Tuesday to help Cape Town avoid Day Zero, GWUA chief executive Johan Groenewald said.

"We were blessed [with rain], even though it is not as much as usual," Groenewald told News24 on Monday after the group of deciduous fruit growers around Grabouw and Elgin agreed to the once-off release from their private dams.

The farmers will release their water into the Palmiet River and it will eventually wend its way to the Steenbras Dam, which is one of drought-stricken Cape Town's water suppliers.

READ: Cape Town warns of sanitation risks ahead of #DayZero

Groenewald said he hoped to start the release at around 11:00 on Tuesday.

It comes after marathon consultations and agreements with farmers, and then meetings with and permission from the City of Cape Town and the Department of Water and Sanitation to finalise the complex water licensing requirements and permissions the government attaches to water use and the movement of water.

Anton Rabe, CEO of Hortgro, which represents apple, pear and plum producers in the region, told News24: "It is a sign of goodwill and to indicate that agriculture is responsible, and we are not wasting water."

'A leap of faith'

The water will come from private dams built over the years by farmers in the Elgin and Grabouw fruit-growing areas.

The farmers already manage their water use carefully, a statement issued later said, and rainfall in the area has also been lower than usual.

They are in a different catchment area and so can spare some for Cape Town, but if they do not get their expected rainfall in winter, the fruit-growing industry will be in trouble.

READ: #DayZero pushed out to May but Capetonians urged to continue saving water

"So this is really a leap of faith," said Hortgro spokesperson Elise-Marie Steenkamp.

The release will form part of other initiatives such as extracting water from aquifers and temporary desalination plants, but ultimately the city wants water consumption reduced to 450 million litres per day, from 547 million litres per day.

If it does not drop, and the city runs out of water and declares "Day Zero", about 200 points of distribution will be activated and water will be rationed at 25 litres per person per day.

Agricultural usage expected to drop

The current limit is 50 litres per person per day.

On Monday, the City of Cape Town announced that Day Zero had been pushed back from April 16 to May 11 due to a decline in agricultural usage.

This is because many of the agricultural users in the Western Cape supply system had used up the water allocated to them by the national Department of Water and Sanitation.

Agricultural usage is also expected to drop in the coming weeks.

"Currently, the agriculture sector is drawing about 30% of the water in the supply scheme. This should fall to approximately 15% in March and 10% in April," a statement from the council said.

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