Metro banks on rain in 2018

This picture of the Churchill Dam was taken on November 2. Its level yesterday stood at 14.12%
Picture: Eugene Coetzee

But supply set to be halved two months before expected downpour

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality is pinning its hopes of solving the city’s water crisis on an “extreme rainfall event” expected to occur towards the end of next year.

But it is likely that for two months before this, the metro will have access to only half of its water supply through the Nooitgedacht low-level water scheme.

This was according to infrastructure, engineering and electricity political head Annette Lovemore during a Facebook live interview yesterday.

Lovemore said South African Weather Service officials Garth Sampson and Hugh van Niekerk had presented their projections at a disaster management team meeting on July 27.

“We are expecting water, a real rainfall event, in October 2018,” she said. “We are [also] expecting our dams to last until August 2018.

“Between August and October 2018 [when themajor rains are expected], all that we will have is Nooitgedacht, which is only half of our water supply.”

She said the metro had been told it needed a rainfall event of 50mm over 24 hours in the catchment areas for a significant change in dam levels.

Sampson said based on statistics there was a 90% chance of the rainfall event happening and if it did not happen by December 26 next year, that would be the longest period in Port Elizabeth’s history without one.

“There is a good chance [90%] of it happening because it has never exceeded that period – it has never not happened. “But, you know, they say never say never,” Sampson said.

He has said previously that Port Elizabeth has extreme rain events every 36 years on average.

“In the history of PE, we have serious events once every four years, very serious events once every seven years, absolute disasters every 27 years and catastrophic events every 36 years – this includes the floods of 1908, 1968 and 1981,” he said.

“This does not, however, mean that we will get a severe event at exactly 36 years, but on average it is 36 years.”

The total dam level capacity supplying the metro was at a combined 28.91% average yesterday, while major storage dams w e re at: Kouga 11.42%, Churchill 14.12%, Impofu 50.22% and Groendal 52.32%.

Lovemore said yesterday that executive director Walter Shaidi was looking into signing a declaration to restrict homes from using more than 30 kilolitres of water a month.

“Anything above that is wasteful,” she said. “Dr Shaidi is considering that and if he signs off on this, it will mean everybody who is using more than 30kL will have a restrictor installed in their homes.

“If you are wasting water then I am sorry, but you will be restricted.”

Lovemore said the municipality’s major concern was ensuring the city’s main water supply was augmented. One such augmentation was the Nooitgedacht low-level water scheme, which draws its supply from the Gariep Dam in the Free State.

Lovemore said the extra supply had kept the city going.

“Nooigedacht is keeping us going but it doesn’t put us in a safe position. “At the moment, we are on balance and we have available to us every day approximately 275 megalitres, but we are using 280ML.

“We are using slightly more than we have available. “We must understand that we say it is what is available to us – but it is only available as long as we have water in the [other] dams.”

For the past six weeks, the municipality has been at odds with workers in the water and electricity departments after a new overtime policy came into effect on October 1.

Weekends have seen some residents in townships and suburbs go without water and electricity while others wait for hours to have major pipe bursts repaired.

Despite the water crisis, Lovemore and Shaidi said the city would not back down. “It’s a fight – it is like a police and a thief situation,” Shaidi said.

“We are looking into putting sensors and locks where we have valves.”

The municipality has laid criminal complaints of sabotage at five different police stations linked to valves which had been switched off in areas.

Residents who have been forced to go without water and electricity have also taken to social media to vent their frustration.

Lovemore admitted the city had failed to properly inform residents of water and power outages in their areas.

“I am not satisfied with the level of communication with our residents,” she said.

“The anger that is evident on social media attests to the fact that people are not well enough informed.”

Shaidi said they would look at distributing flyers through newspapers and sending text messages to ward councillors. Meanwhile, plans are afoot to have a desalination plant up and running by November next year.

A partnership between Marina Salt, South African Breweries (SAB) and the municipality is said to be in its final stages, with a memorandum of understanding and legal contracts being drawn up.

Lovemore said they expected to have desalinated and ground water in the water supply in the next 12 to 24 months.

The Coega Industrial Development Zone had also shown interest in investing in the project. “SAB and the Coega Industrial Zone have the environmental impact assessments in place and they have been approved,” she said.

Marina Salt will desalinate seawater and take the salt it requires, while SAB will purify the water further to create good-quality beer. SAB will keep the two-million litres of water it requires daily and sell the rest to the municipality

Lovemore also said a 10-year plan detailing how they would tackle the city’s water crisis would be tabled at a mayoral committee meeting on Wednesday.

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