Water scarcity in Western Cape towns persists despite r…

The head of the Western Cape Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Ntombizanele Bila-Mupariwa, on Thursday said dam levels within the Western Cape Water Supply System, which consists of the six largest dams in the province, were at 73.64%, a notable decline compared with 98.08% during this period last year.

Yet, this is still better than the 2017-18 period when the system had a yield of below 50%, which caused many water users to panic.

“As the department, we remain concerned about the Gouritz River catchment system, which covers the Central Karoo, Little Karoo and coastal belt,” said Bila-Mupariwa.

Much of the Karoo gets low rainfall and relies heavily on groundwater resources. The growing population has placed increasing stress on the area’s groundwater systems.

“Although some areas in this region experienced flash floods last year and this year, the flooding did not result in higher inflows. All bulk water users included [residents, industry and agriculture] should … save water,” said Bila-Mupariwa.

Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works, which pollutes the Diep River, is also one of the department’s concerns. The department said it was working with the City of Cape Town and other affected parties to remedy the situation.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Lindiwe Sisulu vows to clean up the woebegone Water and Sanitation Department

Knysna implements water restrictions

Knysna has become the first municipality in the Western Cape to implement water restrictions this year. Level 3 water restrictions were implemented due to abnormally low rainfall during November and the consequent low levels of rivers in the area.

Water usage in the town was also currently higher than normal due to seasonal tourism, according to the Department of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

Knysna’s acting municipal manager, Roland Butler, said the town’s average rainfall figure for November is about 85mm. “Last year we had 105mm, and this year only 2mm. The river levels of all the rivers in the Greater Knysna area are low, and we expect an influx of people to the area during the upcoming holiday season. We must use water sparingly.”

Level 3 water restrictions dictate:

  • Municipal potable water is for human consumption only;
  • No watering of gardens (not even with a bucket);
  • No washing of vehicles and/or boats;
  • All residents and businesses to restrict their usage to 20kL per month; and
  • Residents using more than 20kL per month will be identified and notified to install water restrictive devices.

“The daily usage of our residents and businesses could further be reduced to assist with this crisis,” added Butler. He pleaded with residents to use water sparingly and adhere to the restrictions.

Businesses and locals are still reeling from the unending Eskom blackouts, and are feeling the pinch of the water restrictions. Many have called for the municipality to slow down on approving new developments until there is a new dam or extension of the current dams.

“I work for a company that services cars,” said Bonnie Jacobsen. “We usually wash the car as part of the service and now we can’t. In the grander scheme of things it’s not a big problem, but more a point of pride; customer satisfaction keeps the doors open.”

Knysna Municipality spokesperson Christopher Bezuidenhout denied that lack of infrastructure contributed to the scarcity of water.

“[We] upgraded the water network at the Heads, water pipes in the CBD were replaced at a cost of nearly R5.88-million and construction work began on the new Heidevallei reservoir,” he said.

The R46-million Charlesford water pipeline has been connected. Construction on the pipeline began in July 2018.

When the Green Drop Certification Program was resuscitated in the last financial year, Western Cape municipalities got 12 of 21 Green Drop awards. A Green Drop report documents municipalities’ performance in managing sewage works. The DWS said a program was being developed to assist struggling municipalities.

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South Africa is a water-scarce country

Nelson Mandela Bay almost became the first South African metro to run out of water. The metro is in the seventh year of a harsh and devastating drought and in January recorded its driest month yet.

Dry conditions also persist in the northern parts of Limpopo and the western parts of the Northern Cape. Vuyiseka Tumana, the acting director at Water and Sanitation Services Support, said South Africa is a water-scarce country, ranking 17th on the dry countries list.

“We advise municipalities not to depend on one source of water. We must mix it with groundwater development, we must also tap into reusable water, tap into desalination and also tap into artificial recharge. All these things will contribute to the resilience of water resources where we know that we are comfortable and move from being vulnerable to water shortages.”

Incomplete water projects and corruption

Water projects around South Africa have been marred by corruption for a number of years. Many projects remain incomplete due to money being stolen and procurement issues.

More than 55 villages in Limpopo were to benefit from the Giyani Bulk Water Project. After more than a decade and more than R3-billion spent, not a single village has seen a drop of water from the project. President Cyril Ramaphosa and DWS Minister Senzo Mchunu were in the area this week and promised that villagers would benefit from the project soon and that those who looted the funds would be held accountable.

In the Western Cape, the Clanwilliam Dam project is yet to be completed. It is part of the Olifants-Doorn River water resources project and is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country. The completion date was first estimated to be March 2023 but was pushed to April 2027.

Another outstanding project is the R21-million Brandvlei Dam Project, which involves the construction of a feeder canal which will provide an additional 33 megaliters of water for storage in the dam. DM