South Africa: Drought - Stern warning to use water wisely

Source(s): South African Governement News Agency
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By More Matshediso

Johannesburg - Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has called on citizens to use water sparingly and responsibly because climate change has exacerbated the drought situation in the country.

Briefing media in Johannesburg on Sunday, the Minister also called on local government and those responsible for managing water to lead communities in using water wisely.

“South Africa is a water scarce country with highly variable rainfall and water runoff. To mitigate this situation, this requires pro-active and responsive risk management, coupled with innovative water security management interventions,” said the Minister, who added that there was no substitute for the resource.

She explained that 98% of the water in the country has already been supplied and it has to be reused. South Africa has had to draw some of the water from Lesotho.

Drought conditions are being experiences across the country due to prolonged lower-than-normal rainfall since the beginning of the year, and this has led to water shortages in a number of public water supply schemes or dams.

“So far, drought disaster has been declared in only two of the nine provinces … which are KwaZulu-Natal and Free State. Funding for specific drought mitigation measures have been received by only the KwaZulu-Natal province,” she said.

Minister Mokonyane said other drought stricken areas included the southern parts of Mpumalanga and selected areas in Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape provinces.

About 50% of local water storage was a problem and could become critical if they are not managed carefully.

“The drought currently affects 173 of the 1 628 water supply schemes nationally, serving approximately 2.7 million households or 18% of the national population,” she said.

Measures to mitigate drought

Minister Mokonyane said to address and mitigate the potential impact of drought there were immediate, medium and long term measures being put in place.

These include the strict implementation of drought operating rules at all dams; increasing the water mix especially groundwater utilisation, rain harvesting, re-use of return flows and packaged desalination plants; reducing operational risks by proper infrastructure operation and maintenance with associated skills development; implementation of water conservation and demand management programmes and climate research as well as hydrological and geo-hydrological monitoring.

“The department has committed R352.6 million to the initial drought intervention projects and a further R96.620 million to interim tinkering and additional interventions,” said Minister Mokonyane.

She gave a breakdown of the water levels in each of the provinces.

In KwaZulu-Natal the average water level of the dams in the province is currently 58% of full supply capacity. Three of its 18 large water supply schemes are at risk, and 42 of the 117 schemes are affected by drought.

The department has prioritised this province as it is currently the most affected.

“A plan of action has been developed, including drilling of boreholes, spring rehabilitation and packaged desalination plants. More than 150 tankers have already been deployed in 12 local municipalities," said the Minister.

The Free State is generally in a positive water balance with the average dam water level at 67%, but critical water areas are the central areas along the watershed relying on the water transfers from the Caledon River system.

“This system has experienced abnormally low flows in recent years. Water restrictions have been implemented for users in the Caledon River system, and releases from the Lesotho Highlands transfers into the Little Caledon River are being implemented to augment the system in the short-term,” said the Minister.

She said a direct pipeline from the Gariep Dam to supply Mangaung and the surrounding areas is being planned as a long-term solution. Rural towns in the province are vulnerable to drought due to low rainfall.

Most of Gauteng’s water is supplied by the Vaal and Crocodile West River systems. Minister Mokonyane said the average dam levels are currently at 84% and pose manageable short-term water security risk.

“No hydrological drought is experienced currently. A number of projects are however underway to address service delivery problems,” she said.

The restrictions that have been implemented by Rand Water are as a result of the current high weather conditions which could lead to a drought situation. The City of Tshwane implemented water restrictions in most towns due to the heat wave in October. While Joburg Water had not yet implemented water restriction, communities have been advised to use water wisely.

“Key interventions to be implemented in mitigation of potential drought impacts include water conservation and water demand management programmes, Phase 2 of Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the eradication of unlawful water use in the irrigation sector, desalination of mine water and reuse of return flows,” said the Minister.

In the Eastern Cape, the water situation is generally good with average dam level at 78% and most of the key dams are at full or close to full levels.

However, the Minister said there were areas of concern including Butterworth/Idutywa.

“Water restrictions should be implemented urgently to stretch the available water in the system. Nelson Mandela Bay remains at risk due to slow implementation of the Nooitgedacht Low-level Scheme which was started in the drought of 2009 to 2011,” said the Minister.

She said the city will be subject to water restrictions until its completion by 2018.

The average water level of dams in Limpopo is 71% with 12 of 24 dams above 80% and four dams below 50%. The recent construction of the De Hoop Dam brings relief to the rapid growth in mining and domestic water demands in the Sekhukhune District Municipality.

“However, due to lack of bulk connector services, rural communities are prone to drought impacts. Speeding up the connector services will go a long way in alleviating the situation,” said Minister Mokonyane.

The department will intervene in addressing challenges in Limpopo, as local government struggles to manage them.

With regards to Mpumalanga, dam water levels are on average at 70%. Minister Mokonyane said the drought stricken area is primarily located in the south bordering KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland.

“Despite below average rainfall, the domestic water supply systems are still in good state. Main impacts are on irrigated agriculture, forestry and associated industries,” she said.

In the Northern Cape a total of 280 communities depend on groundwater because the province is located in a semi-desert climate and is therefore regularly subject to extremely low rainfall.

“Many of these towns are already utilising over 76% of groundwater, potential and alternative sources of water are being investigated to reduce the risk of non-supply of water,” she said.

The average water level in all dams in the Northern Cape is 53% and water restrictions are currently being implemented. The province relies heavily on groundwater and there is potential for further exploration, the Minister said.

In the Western Cape the average dam level is 70%, which is low compared to last year because of lower-than-normal rainfall during the past winter.

Main drought impacts are on agriculture in the Vredendal, Garies, Bitterfontein areas, where the farmers have already applied for drought relief for their stock. –

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Hazards Drought
Country and region South Africa
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