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Eastern Cape drought: Nelson Mandela Bay’s dying dams

For the past six years, Impofu Dam caretaker Freddie Leander has watched the level drop. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The two major dams for the Eastern Cape’s biggest metro, Nelson Mandela Bay, are running dry and with no major rain forecast, the city is facing an unprecedented water crisis.

Flowers, trees and vegetation grow in spaces where once, around 2015, there was water in Nelson Mandela Bay’s two biggest dams. The metro, consisting of Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), Kariega (formerly Uitenhage) and Despatch is home to an estimated 1.3 million people.

Kouga dam caretaker Vuyani Dlomo looks over the dam that is now only 4.5% full, the lowest level since its construction between 1959 and 1969. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality last week launched a major campaign to urge residents to save water as dam levels dropped to new lows. The area has been in the grip of a prolonged drought.

A flower grows on the dry bottom of the Kouga Dam. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Garth Sampson of the South African Weather Service said to save the situation, the Langkloof, where the catchment area is, would have to receive more than 50mm of rain in 24 hours. 

“We need a flood,” he said. 

Grass and vegetation is growing where there once was water in the Kouga Dam. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

On Friday, 30 April Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation arrived in the city for talks on a crisis plan for the metro.

With only 1.5% usable water and a total of 4.5% left, the Kouga Dam has now reached its lowest level since its construction between 1957 and 1969.  The dam has a capacity of 125,910 million litres, and now has only 5,571 million litres of water left. The dams were last full in 2015.

Divers prepare for a surveillance dive in the Kouga Dam to measure the depth of water. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Last week, residents were urged to reduce usage to preserve as much water as possible in the two dams.

Divers were preparing to go down to the Kouga Dam floor on Thursday, 29 April to establish how much was water and how much was mud, which will determine when extraction must stop.

With the Impofu Dam last full in 2015, trees and vegetation are growing where there once was water. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Once water extraction from the dam is halted, KwaNobuhle, a large township outside of Kariega, will be the first to run dry, the metro’s director of water and sanitation, Barry Martin, said last week.

Buoys originally hung to indicate a no-go zone for boats now hang in the air like balloons as trees grow in dry parts of the dam. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

On Saturday, 1 May, Mayoral Committee Member for Infrastructure and Engineering Masixole Zinto visited KwaNobuhle to urge residents to report all water leaks and use water sparingly.

“KwaNobuhle is the first area that is anticipated to be affected if we don’t drop our water consumption. We are here to fix the 200 reported water leaks. Every weekend our teams will focus on a particular area to fix leaks, reported and unreported,” Zinto said.

Caretaker of the Impofu Dam Freddie Leander walks where the water levels would be if the dam were full. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

“During the week, our teams attend to various water reports and this programme will allow us to take all our teams to focus on a specific area. We believe this will save us millions of litres of water as sometimes leaks are not reported,” he said. 

As parts of the metro receive water from the Orange River via the Nooitgedacht Scheme there will not be a Day Zero as was predicted from Cape Town but, as the Acting Executive Director for Infrastructure and Engineering Joseph Tsatsire explained, the metro will have to redistribute water from several sources to make up for lost supply as dams run dry.

Nelson Mandela Bay’s Impofu Dam is 15% full. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The metro’s second-biggest dam, the Impofu Dam, is 15% full. At 100% capacity, the dam holds 105,757 million litres of water. It now has 15,851 million litres left. Martin said as the dam level had already dropped below the extraction points a special barge had to be acquired to ensure that extraction could continue. 

On Friday, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s Council approved the construction of a seawater desalination plant.

With the Impofu Dam last full in 2015, grass and vegetation is now growing where there once was water. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The decision paves the way for the city’s Infrastructure and Engineering Directorate to enter a partnership with the Coega Development Corporation to proceed with plans to fast track the project which will provide 15 million litres of desalinated water a day.

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality Executive Mayor Councillor Nqaba Bhanga said the decision shows a clear commitment by the municipality to invest in infrastructure that will secure major investments and improve the city’s economy. 

After meeting the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality on Friday, 30 April Lindiwe Sisuli, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation also pledged assistance to the city in dealing with the crisis. DM/MC

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  • Ask Lungisa why 183 million went unspent and returned to Treasury. Can’t ask Bobani anymore fortuneately. Play play political thieves and morons. Kouga received the same 200 million and invested it in water storage,boreholes and repairs. DA run efficient council. But gets water from PE.!!!!!!