“WE are in a worse position than people realise and if we don’t get good rain this winter, we are in deep trouble."
These are the words of South African Weather Service spokesperson in Nelson Mandela Bay, Garth Sampson, regarding the metro’s ongoing drought.
The past two weeks have seen the Bay’s water system under enormous pressure when several areas were left without water after the demand outweighed the available supply. The Impofu Dam reached an all-time low of 7.01% of capacity of which 7% is dead storage, the lowest ever since the dam was constructed forty years ago in 1983.
NMBM mayor, Retief Odendaal, said the low dam levels have caused a strain to the system, leading to a supply deficit at Nooitgedacht Water Treatment Works. This led to demand exceeding supply by 20% on one of the days the metro was hit by these outages.
The municipality spent days redirecting water from other areas in an attempt to supply areas that had shortages.
Odendaal has continuously requested residents to reduce demand immediately and urgently since the entire system is under severe pressure.
Although they worked around the clock to replenish the system and affected areas were finally supplied with water again, the dam levels continue to decline at an alarming rate, with levels at the time of going to print standing at just over 14%.
“To make matters worse, the pumps on the barge nearby the intake tower [of the Impofu Dam] will soon reach the riverbed and will need to be moved. The new barge, six kilometres downstream near the dam wall, requires electrical connections before it can be brought online. This will allow the NMBM to draw the last remaining dead storage from this dam,” Odendaal said.
He explained that due to the severe drought, the metro cannot meet the water demand of 286 megalitres a day, resulting in water shortages.
“The city’s approved abstraction volume by the Department of Water is only 230 megalitres per day. This has had knock-on effects on reservoir levels at Grassridge and Olifantskop, causing reduced flow to parts of the city, specifically the east-west transfer system,” Odendaal said.
Desalination - power hungry system
Sampson, known as the Weather Guru, said that the metro needs a minimum of 50 mm rain in 24 hours over most of the Langkloof to make any significant difference.
That would then need to include some good follow-up rain to make a long-lasting difference.
“We had slightly above-normal rainfall for 2022, but we need the major events to lift dam levels. I need to highlight the following: Yes, the Gariep Dam is overflowing but what happens in the future when they have a drought?
“Desalination costs a fortune and they are power hungry systems. Where are we going to get power from?
“We must stick to the allocations given by the Department of Water and Sanitation but the problem lies with the public,” Sampson said.
“Although everybody says that they save water, consumption has not dropped in the last two years, except in rainy periods. Unlike Cape Town where the community worked together, the Bay’s public refuse to save water but are very good at pointing fingers and playing the blame game.”
He added that some people buy water tanks to stockpile municipal water, fire hydrants are stolen and water meters are turned back.
“If every household flushed once less a day, that would be saving. If every shopping centre, factory, warehouse or building harvested rain water to use in toilets or production or cleaning, we would see significant saving.
“The seasonal forecast is for above-normal rains. Although a firm believer in it, even if above-normal, if it does not fall so as to provide run off, it does not help. My advice to all is to get an inverter and solar system to overcome Eskom, and get water tanks to harvest rain water,” Sampson emphasised.
“Also, if you don’t read your meter daily and record it, you do not save water. How can you know how much you are saving if you do not know how much you use? This situation has to be taken much more seriously.”
Both Sampson and Odendaal urged residents to stick to the 50 litres per person per day restriction.