Maverick Citizen: Eastern Cape

Seaside towns confident that water won’t run out

By Estelle Ellis 29 November 2019

St Francis Bay South Africa (Photo: Shaun Roy/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images)

Popular seaside towns in the Eastern Cape remain confident that they will not run out of water despite an increase in consumption over the festive season as thousands of visitors arrive. The province was declared a disaster area in October and dam levels are extremely low as summer rains, expected to break a crippling drought, have not yet arrived. In Aliwal North, however, a popular youth arts festival has been moved to 2020 to avoid more stress on the unstable water system as the centre and surrounding towns suffer extreme shortages.

“The water situation remains precarious in Eastern Cape where dam levels continue to drop by an average one percent weekly. The latest dam levels report by the Department of Water and Sanitation estimates the province’s levels at 48.3%. This is a drop by 13% compared to the same period last year,” Department of Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said.

The Joe Gqabi Municipality, covering towns such as Aliwal North, Flagstaff, Maclear and Steynsburg this week again reiterated that all drinking water should be boiled before consumption as the risk of “water quality failure” is high.

Municipal spokesman Mandla Gqeya said the whole district has seen very high temperatures, above 30ºC, in the past week. He said they had seen an increase in diarrhoea cases at clinics in Aliwal North, but stressed that this was not unusual given high temperatures in the area.

“Warm seasons typically have higher incidences of diarrhoea,” he said, adding that “not all” cases were water-related.

Holidaymakers at St. Francis Bay. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

According to the municipality’s latest update, supply to Burgersdorp will likely be lost today due to vandalism at the Chiapinnisklip Dam. Flow meters in the Orange River have shown a significant decline at Aliwal North, raising fears that the river will again stop flowing, causing severe water outages in the town. Mount Fletcher has only 5% of water left and the municipality is exploring boreholes to provide some more water to the town.

Gqeya said they were testing all water from boreholes donated to towns to make sure it is safe.

He said they were collecting water from the natural wetlands at Aliwal Spa hot springs, but this water is very high in minerals and tastes salty — “you will have to boil it”.

On Thursday, the municipality announced that the annual Sonyela Youth Arts Festival, scheduled for the first week in December and regarded as one of the town’s biggest economic opportunities of the year, was to be postponed to March 2020 in the hope that summer rain will arrive before then.

“The decision to reschedule the festival was taken as a preventive measure to combat the increased demand for water. At present the water supply to Aliwal North is below 40% of daily demand and is not stable,” Gqeya said.

Holidaymakers at Jeffreys Bay. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

Lusanda Pati, the regional secretary for the Joe Gqabi South African Youth Council, said it had been decided to postpone the festival due to a “national disaster crisis in the district”.

Laura-Leigh Randall, spokesperson for the Kouga Municipality which covers popular seaside towns such as Jeffreys Bay and St Francis Bay, said the water situation differed among the district’s nine towns.

“We are confident that our coastal towns will have sufficient water for the festive season as long as everyone plays their part and uses water sparingly. The municipality will, therefore, be running a drought awareness campaign for the duration of the season.”

She said Hankey and Patensie have had water rationing since August 2018 because of restrictions placed on municipal use of water in the Kouga Dam by the national Department of  Water and Sanitation.

Figures released by the department for this week showed that the Impofu Dam, one of the main sources of water for Jeffreys Bay, Humansdorp and the St Francis Bay, was only 17.5% full. At the same time in 2018 it stood at 36.8% full.

“The municipality also has existing boreholes to augment the water supply. A town such as Oyster Bay, for example, receives its water from boreholes. This does not, however, make it any less essential to use water sparingly as groundwater is also not an unlimited supply,” she said.

She said they were not expecting water shortages “due to drought” during the festive season.

Chairperson of the Jeffreys Bay Tourism Board Deon Freemantle said they were very optimistic about the festive season.

“We are quite fortunate that our municipality is on top of the situation — contingency plans have been made. We advertise to visitors to be very careful with water. We all need tourism to stimulate the economy of our towns. But I am very optimistic. Guesthouses and accommodation in towns is virtually booked out. The town is already getting busy,” he said.

He said when schools resumed earlier than expected in January 2019 Jeffreys Bay businesses lost 10 sales days and the town was keen to make up for it this season.

“South Africans are very resilient,” he said. “They adapt easy. But I am confident that we won’t have to worry about the water running out this December,” he said.

Shena Wilmot from the Port Elizabeth Metro Bed & Breakfast Association said they had not seen a decline in bookings due to the drought.

“Our owners are trying their best to keep water usage down,” she said. “Towels might not be washed every day,” she said. “We are going to try our best to educate our guests. I don’t think we fear a Day Zero scenario but our situation in Nelson Mandela Bay is very dire,” she said.

Ailsa Grobler, chairperson of the Graaff-Reinet Tourism Board, promoting Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen and Nieu-Bethesda, said they were seeing a general decrease in people coming through the area.

The Nqweba Dam, the main source of water for Graaff-Reinet, dried up a few months ago, but after a little bit of rain fell in the area now have 1% water. Large parts of the town have suffered water outages.

“I think there is a general decrease in people coming through here. I think they are worried. There would have been other factors that influenced that drop in numbers, too. I do want to say that most guest-house owners have made a plan. They have tanks and pumps and they do have water. We would love for visitors to book. They can just ask if they are worried. We are more than open for business,” she said. MC

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