Port Elizabeth – The water crisis in the Eastern Cape is deepening as dam levels across the province drop drastically, with at least one metro and numerous towns at risk of running out of water.
The Kouga Municipality has already indicated that at least two towns, Hankey and Patensie, face water shedding, while the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality is considering further punitive water restrictions.
The combined dam capacity of the Algoa water supply system, which supplies the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and surrounds, has dropped to its lowest ever level of just 25.6%, dropping 0.7% in a week.
The previous lowest combined level for the Algoa system, was during the drought of 2010, where combined capacity was recorded at 31%.
The largest dam of the Algoa water supply system is the Kouga dam, which has dropped to a mere 7.9% of its total capacity. This is the lowest level ever recorded for the dam, which is the key supply dam for the Kouga Municipality and surrounding farmers. Last year this time, it was 44.6% full.
The Amathole district has also been declared a disaster area. The Xilinxa, Dutywa, Bedford and Adelaide dams were critical in 2017, with water shedding to Butterworth, Adelaide and Bedford.
Nothing on Day Zero yet
The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality said nothing has been confirmed yet around Day Zero – the day the dams run dry.
In a statement last month, the municipality said current water consumption could see the city’s dams run dry by August, while the SA Weather Service was only forecasting significant rains in October.
This would leave the metro dependent on the Nooitgedacht scheme, which supplies about half of the city’s water.
The scheme sources water from the Gariep Dam, through the Sundays River Valley.
“There are serious discussions within infrastructure and engineering led by mayoral committee member, Councillor Masixolo Zinto, in relation to the current dam levels and the implications they bring,” said municipal spokesperson, Mthubanzi Mniki.
Mniki added that an aggressive awareness campaign was currently in place informing the people and businesses about the dire situation. He said a press conference regarding plans around Day Zero, would be announced soon.
Mandela Bay losing water to failing infrastructure
In the midst of the crisis, failing infrastructure across the metro is adding to the municipality’s woes, with almost half of the water produced being lost.
A mid-term report for the 2017/18 financial year, compiled by the municipality, showed that the metro lost 45% of its water supply in the five months to November last year. This includes water supplied but not paid for, such as water bill write-offs over the basic free allocation to assistance to the poor residents.
The municipality tabled a R1.6bn 10-year plan last year to bring water losses, then recorded at 38%, down to 20%. It also aimed to have physical water losses through leaks, recorded at 30%, brought down to 15% – the upper limit of international best practice.
Water shedding as towns exceed allocated quotas
Kouga Executive Mayor Elza van Lingen said the towns of Hankey and Patensie had just about used up their water quotas for the financial year, ending in June.
“The latest readings in December indicated that Hankey only had nine percent of its quota left and Patensie 36%,” she said.
Hankey and Patensie both receive their bulk raw water from the Gamtoos government water scheme, which is administered by the Gamtoos Irrigation Board. The scheme includes the Kouga Dam and the downstream canal system.
Van Lingen said the Department of Water and Sanitation had, in July 2017, slashed the authorised maximum withdrawal for use by Hankey and Patensie by 25% because of the ongoing drought.
Alternative water solutions sought
Van Lingen said the Kouga Municipality was working around the clock, trying to secure more water sources for its residents as the drought continues, drilling boreholes to augment the current water supply.
“Three new boreholes were drilled at Oyster Bay towards the end of last year. The yield, at about two litres per second, is low, but this assisted the town in coping with the holiday influx as water levels were critically low in November,” she said.
The town has two existing boreholes and a spring and does not rely on Nelson Mandela Bay-controlled dams for supply.
Van Lingen said they were drilling two new boreholes in Jeffreys Bay while one was being rehabilitated.
“The municipality is also looking at using water from the dunes at Mosterthoek to supply St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis as the two towns are supplied through the metro dams,” she said.
She said the municipality was also investigating desalination as an option to solve the water crisis facing Kouga, and would be appointing a consultant shortly to assist with bringing desalinated water into Kouga’s water mix.