Dams fill up – lifting of restrictions still weeks away

STRINGENT drought rules are set to be eased “significantly” – but only next month, Nelson Mandela Bay municipal officials say.

After last week’s heavy rains, water supply has surged to 74% capacity compared to 45% two weeks ago.

Three Bay municipal water officials said restrictions ruling that households may use just 15 kilolitres of water monthly  were likely to be dropped after a meeting between the municipality and the Water Affairs Department early next month.

But restrictions first introduced 18 months ago barring the use of hosepipes to water gardens or wash cars would possibly remain in place, said the officials, who asked not to be named.

They added that the ultimate decision would lie with the Water Affairs Department.

Meanwhile, farmers are rejoicing after what they described as the rains having made their lands   “the wettest we’ve seen in more than 30 years”. This has resulted in farm dams having filled and weak underground water sources having been restored to full strength.

But the human and property toll has been heavy in some areas.  Eastern Cape disaster management head Captain John Fobian said four people – one from Fort Beaufort and three from Lusikisiki – were missing and presumed to have been washed away in flood waters.

Hundreds of people were also still facing waits of up to several days before they would be able to return to their flooded and damaged homes, although some had begun moving back home.
Yesterday, water continued to flow into dams after 150mm of rain fell in the Bay, 140mm in George, 170mm in East London, 46mm in Joubertina and 37mm in Graaff-Reinet from Tuesday to Friday last week.

The biggest supply dam, the 126000-megalitre (Ml) Kouga – which is shared with Langkloof farmers – began overflowing on Saturday morning.

The smaller Loerie and Groendal dams  began overflowing last Thursday.

The city’s second and third-largest supply dams, the Impofu and Churchill, which are both fed by the Kromme River, were at about 43% and 66% respectively yesterday.

Municipal spokesperson Kupido Baron said while the Kouga Dam water was shared, the levels of the Impofu and Churchill dams were more important to the city as the water in both was used solely for the city.

Under the current water affairs restrictions which could now be eased, the metro has access to just 14000Ml annually from the Kouga Dam – 60% of its usual allocation – with farmers allowed 40%, or 24000Ml, of their usual allocation annually.

“In terms of extracting water from those [Impofu and Churchill] dams, those are critical because we extract up to 150Ml from them a day. They are the bulk of the city’s supply.”  Baron said the city used 230Ml to 250Ml of water a day.

He confirmed restrictions would remain in place until the metro had met the department.

Farmers’ association Agri Eastern Cape president Ernest Pringle, who is based in Bedford, said last week’s conditions were the wettest he had seen  in 30 years.

“The rain is most welcome as the province is mostly drought-prone.  Last week’s rain eliminated the last of our drought areas [along the south coast and in the Langkloof].”

Pringle said the only downside of the good rains was the damage to infrastructure, especially main gravel roads which farmers rely on to transport produce to the cities.

“Our roads have really suffered from all this rain, and it appears not much will be done to fix them,” Pringle said.

Fobian said municipalities were busy with mopping-up operations, including getting affected communities to help out.  “This [flood damage] doesn’t dry out in a day or two.  The people are trying to get their homes back to normal,” Fobian said.

Those forced to abandon their houses included 2000 people in low-lying areas in the Bay, as well as about 500 people in East London.

Baron said that in terms of projects to supplement water supply, R450-million in drought aid would be received next month from the government.

This would allow work to start on expanding the Nooitgedacht water treatment works near Addo.

The works, which extract water  carried to the Sundays River via pipes and canals from the Gariep Dam, supply about 95Ml of water to the Bay daily.

After the 16-month expansion project, a further 70Ml would be added.

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