Water shortages still a concern despite recent rainfall

11th January 2017 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Water shortages still a concern despite recent rainfall

DWS deputy director-general for emergency projects Trevor Balzer
Photo by: Duane Daws

South Africa will need ten times as much rainfall as the amount of rain it received in the past week to pull the country out of its water shortage crisis, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) said on Wednesday.

Despite the mid-summer rainfalls, South Africa remains a long way from being out of the woods and the currently imposed water restrictions will only be reconsidered when a safe 70% dam water level had been reached, DWS deputy director-general for emergency projects Trevor Balzer told media during a tour of the Vaal dam, in the Free State.

“We are still in it for the long haul. We need to intensify our programmes. The [water] system is still very low,” he stressed.

The country will continue to grapple with water shortages amid a severe drought and evaporation rates, as the national dam water levels only rose 1.9% week-on-week to 50.7% by Monday, with Gauteng’s Integrated Vaal River System having reached 58.5%, up from last week’s 54.8%.

The Vaal System gained some 395-million cubic metres of water during the recent rainfalls, surpassing the 200-million cubic metres of water obtained from the release of water from the Sterkfontein dam in November and December.

However, the country is not out of the woods yet as this has failed to bring the average dam volumes to the desired, sustainable levels.

Further, there is minimal chance of above-normal mid-summer rainfall to enable the much-needed recovery of the dangerously low levels of water at some of the country’s dams.

“Unless there is a rapid and significant change to rainfall patterns, there is still a long road to recovery and we face the possibility of a difficult winter,” the DWS had said in a statement last week, noting that the recovery rate could stretch beyond three years.

The DWS is only, at best, willing to reconsider the water restrictions when the dam levels surpass 70% or an analysis shows the country in a “band of safety limits”.

Grootdraai is at 98.8% and Sterkforntain at 86.6%, rising 0.4% on the previous week.

The Vaal River System, which comprises 14 dams serving mainly Gauteng, Sasol and Eskom, reached water levels of 61.9% at this time last year.

The system reached its lowest level of 26.6% in November, prompting the DWS to release the maximum 200-million cubic metres from the reserve storage at Sterkfontein dam into Nuwejaarspruit and then into the Wilge river, feeding the Vaal over a 54-day period to keep its water levels at or above 25% of capacity.

The DWS closed the flow on December 22.