EASTERN CAPE DROUGHT
Tough restrictions push back Nelson Mandela Bay’s Day Zero, but trouble still lies ahead
While some rain fell in the catchment area of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro on Monday, dam levels remained low — around 11% — but significant water restrictions and limitations on extractions have pushed back Day Zero by several months. However, vandalism and technical failures continue to cause water losses.
A vandalised water pipeline in Nelson Mandela Bay and a tap detaching from an emergency water collection point led to water losses over the weekend as teams scrambled to fix the two leaks.
Luvuyo Bangazi, spokesperson for the metro’s joint operations centre, where the water crisis is being handled, said the tap at an emergency collection point in Summerstrand had “popped off” due to pressure issues and water ran for an hour before being stopped.
He said vandals had damaged a 300mm pipe in an industrial area of the metro.
Garth Sampson from the South African Weather Service said rainfall of between 19mm and 29mm was recorded in the catchment area of the Churchill and Impofu dams on Monday night.
According to a statement by the Gamtoos Irrigation Board that manages the Kouga Dam and the smaller Loerie Dam, significant falls were also measured, with between 29mm and 84mm falling in different areas of Krakeel Hoek, and 17.3mm at Loerie.
The Kouga Dam is at 18.15% — a level last seen two years ago.
NMB water supply ‘still constrained’
Nelson Mandela Bay Water and Sanitation Director, Barry Martin, said the low percentage of dam storage and water restrictions imposed by the national water department meant the metro’s water supply was still constrained.
“The city is still under significant water restrictions implemented by the National Department of Water and Sanitation, basically putting a limit as to how much water we can draw from the system. Those restrictions are likely to be revisited once our local dams recover to above 50% capacity.”
The metro is allowed to take only 30% of its normal volume from the Impofu and Churchill dams. Both remain under great pressure. The city’s present water usage, on average, is about 274 megalitres a day, but should be reduced to 250 megalitres.
“We are also facing an increasing level of vandalism which affects electrical supply to reservoirs, negatively impacting our ability to produce consistent supply for all,” Martin said.
The metro receives the bulk of its water from the Nooitgedacht Scheme which brings water from the Gariep Dam in the Free State, but this requires extensive pumping operations to get the water from the eastern side of the metro to the western side.
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Bangazi said that current restrictions and interventions, including one by the national water department, had managed to push back Day Zero — when the metro would run out of water completely.
“These interventions have included an aggressive water leaks reduction programme, the repositioning of a barge at Impofu Dam to extend supply, the commissioning of the Kwanobuhle pump station, pressure reduction initiatives, installation of water demand management devices and straight connections at previously unmetered sites.
“All these interventions, coupled with increased communication efforts, have started to shift consumption patterns slightly and have contributed to pushing back Day Zero,” Bangazi said.
Storm disaster warning
Meanwhile, Dr Andrew Muir, the lead for the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber’s recently established Eastern Cape Climate Change Coalition, and who also serves on the chamber’s board as its immediate past president, has called for the urgent maintenance and repair of the metro’s stormwater drainage system.
On 1 September, it will be the anniversary of the 1968 floods that devastated the city after 352mm of rain fell in four hours.
Weather patterns recorded for Nelson Mandela Bay — dating back to the 1800s — have indicated that prolonged droughts in the area will be followed by heavy rains and floods. The city experienced floods in 1968, 1981 and 2006.
Muir said in his rapid assessment to determine how climate change would affect Nelson Mandela Bay, extreme storm surges, rising sea levels and temperature increases would have an impact on infrastructure and safety in the metro.
“The predicted storm surges… likely to follow the current drought, are set to cause severe damage to key infrastructure such as roads and buildings, and communities living in low-lying areas will be particularly vulnerable.
“The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality needs to urgently maintain the metro’s crumbling stormwater drainage system, as recent heavy downpours have exposed how ill-equipped the infrastructure is against possible heavy floods.
“The situation has been exacerbated by years of failure by the municipality to regularly monitor and maintain the city’s drainage network, which is currently clogged with foreign objects despite numerous calls from various stakeholders across the metro to address this as a matter of urgency.
“Think back to the destruction caused by the KwaZulu-Natal floods in April, in which almost 500 people died, 4,000 homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were displaced — that mopping-up operation is still under way.
“In the aftermath analysis of why that flooding was so severe, the stormwater drainage system has been identified as a major culprit — insufficient to cope with Durban’s growing population and inadequately maintained drainage system.
“An ongoing municipal and public works programme — to ensure the drainage system is sufficient to cope with the size of the metro and is sufficiently maintained, along with clearing alien vegetation from key areas such as the Baakens Valley and Van Der Kemp’s Kloof — is crucial to being prepared for the next major rain event,” Muir said.
“Priority should be placed on protecting lives — homes should not be allowed to be built in floodplains and at-risk low-lying areas… disaster management capabilities need to be reinstated in the metro.”
He added that a master plan to deal with climate change should be put in place. MC