Our Burning Planet


Water levels below 50% as drought rips through Eastern Cape

Water levels below 50% as drought rips through Eastern Cape
JANUARY 6 2020 Wriggleswade Dam near Stutterheim showing signs of the drought as water levels have dropped dramatically Picture ALAN EASON

Eastern Cape dam levels are below 50%, with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality and the Sarah Baartman district the worst affected by the drought.

For more than 10 years some parts of the Eastern Cape have faced a series of multi-year droughts which have dropped dam levels to below 50%, made worse by climate change and the long term effects of El Niño.

The drought has badly affected a number of small towns and villages in the province, and some communities have resorted to buying water or drinking with animals at rivers.

The province had some rainfall in the past weeks that contributed to a slight improvement on the dam levels and the combined average of dam levels increased from 48.4% last week to 49.1% this week.

Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said, “The Algoa Water Supply System (ALWSS) with major dams supplying Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) is sitting below 20% at an average of 11.7% this week compared to 11.8% last week. 

“There is an improvement in other dams under AWSS but the Kouga Dam remains low at 6.7%, Loerie Dam has increased from 33.2% last week to 35.7% this week and Haarlem Dam also improved from 28.7% last week to 29.1% this week.

“The DWS is concerned by the status of NMB, hence there are projects that aim to increase water supply in NMB such as the upgrading of Nooitgedacht Water Scheme.” 

Ratau said there is an improvement on dams feeding the Amathole Water Supply System (AWSS) which also has an effect on the increasing levels of the system from 24.8% last week to 26.1% this week. 

Gcuwa Dam near Butterworth, Eastern Cape in 2020. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

“A few dams, such as Bridle Drift, registered an increase from 20.0% last week to 21.5%, Nahoon Dam saw an increase of 35.3% this week compared to 32.1% last week and [there was] great improvement of Gcuwa Dam from 79.9% last week to 100.0% this week. 

“But Amathole District Municipality (ADM) working with DWS has noticed that high levels of illegal connection in the main pump line has a negative impact on water supply to the communities,” Ratau said.

He said the Klipplaat Water Supply System had recorded an increase of 24.8% compared to 21.9% last week. 

“Dams under the supply also improved. Oxkraal Dam has improved from 30.4% last week to 36.3% this week, Waterdown Dam got a boost from 22.7% last week to 24.4% this week, and Macubeni Dam also improved from 80.7% last week to 82.3% this week.” 

According to data from the DWS, most of the dams in the areas affected by the drought in the Eastern Cape have been on the decline in the last six years.

Eighteen dams out of the 33 in the Sarah Baartman, Chris Hani, OR Tambo and Amathole districts were below 50% on October 28, with Sandile Dam and Binfield Dam at 50%, while Elandsdrift Dam is sitting at 54%.

Nelson Mandela Bay Metro

Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality is severely affected by the drought, and the city could run out of water soon if things do not change. All the dams in Nelson Mandela have been on a constant decline for the past six years. Kouga Dam was sitting at 100% in 2015; it went down to 62% in 2016 and dropped to 13% in 2017.  In 2018, 2019 and 2020 the dam moved to 55%, 35% and 12% respectively. This year it was sitting at 7%.

The Kromrivier Dam has dropped from 100% in 2015 to 13% in October this year. The Impofu dam declined  from 100% in 2015 to 17% this year.

Loerie Dam is at 34%, down from 100% in 2015.

Buffalo City Metro

Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality (BCM) dam levels have declined from 100% in 2015, with the Rooikrans Dam at 68%, Sandile Dam at 50%, Bridle Drift Dam at 20% and Wriggleswade Dam at 6%.

Andile Sihlahla, BCM municipal manager, recently announced that the city needed R121.9-million to dig boreholes to alleviate the water shortages in the metro and that a request had been sent to the Eastern Cape Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs for funding from the drought relief grant.

BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya told Daily Maverick that the metro is in a water crisis because of drought.

Chris Hani District

In Chris Hani, the Waterdown Dam and Oxkraal Dam in Enoch Mgijima Municipality went down from 100% in 2015 to 23% and 18% respectively in October this year. Kommandodrif Dam dropped from 81% in 2015 to 3% in October. Grassridge Dam is sitting at 49%, from 24% in 2015; while Elandsdrift has moved from 12% in 2015 to 54% in October this year.

Chris Hani District Municipality spokesperson Bulelwa Ganyaza said the district had been in a prolonged since 2011.

“Twenty villages are affected in Engcobo municipality, four villages in Sakhisizwe municipality; 25 villages in Enoch Mgijima municipality; in Inxuba Yethemba municipality only one area called Rosemead; in Intsika Yethu municipality 10 villages are affected; and in Emalahleni municipality, about 23 villages are in distress,” she said.

OR Tambo District

In OR Tambo the Umtata Dam has moved up from 98% in 2015 to 100% this year, while the Nuwejaarspruit Dam has dropped from 100% in 2015 to 3% this year.

OR Tambo District Municipality spokesperson Zimkhitha Manqinana said the district has been hard-hit by the drought since 2016. 

Amathole District 

In Amathole, Xilinxa Dam is at 6% this year, down from 50% in 2015. Katrivier Dam is at 46%, down from 100% in 2015.

Amathole District Municipality spokesperson Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso said the hardest-hit areas in the Eastern Cape fall under the Amatola District Municipality (ADM)

She said their biggest concern is Butterworth, Kei Mouth, Adelaide and Debe Neck, where dam levels remain low. 

“Council has been declaring ADM a drought disaster since 2015,” she said.

On Monday, Daily Maverick reported that the Mthatha High Court has given the Eastern Cape provincial government and national government 14 days to file plans and indicate the steps that will be taken to support the cash-strapped Amathole District Municipality to supply water to several rural villages near Centane. Residents of the villages have not had access to potable water since 2017.

In September, the court ordered that emergency water must be supplied to the villages and plans must be filed to indicate how the municipality, the provincial government and the national Department of Water and Sanitation intended to solve the water crisis. 

Naseegh Jaffer from the Masifundise Development Trust (MDT) said they are pushing for the provincial and national governments to be held accountable by the court for the crisis. 

He said there had been some good rain in the area, but due to the absence of water tanks, the communities could not optimally use the water. 

Drought plagues the Eastern Cape as Impofu Dam levels drop. (Photo: Estelle Ellis)

“The villages in the area last had water in their taps in 2017. As a result, they have to walk many kilometres to fetch water from a nearby stream,” he said.

Sarah Baartman District

Sarah Baartman District Municipality, which includes large parts of the Karoo, has been very hard-hit by the drought and the whole district is dry. The Beervlei Dam has been at 0% since 2015; the Nqweba (V Rynevelds) Dam is at 5%, from 46% in 2015. Groendal Dam is at 20%, from 100% in 2015, and Darlington Dam is at 38% from 40% in 2015. DM/OBP

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