Eastern Cape Water Calamity: Farmers pushed to the brink

According to the South African Weather Service seasonal forecast, the Eastern Cape will continue to experience dry conditions due to low levels of rainfall. 

Earlier last week, the Department of Water and Sanitation recorded dam levels as having declined by 54.7%. “The low dam levels can be attributed to less rainfall as a result of drought that continues to linger in some parts of the province” it said in a statement. 

In April, the science premier agriculture institution, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) said its Vegetation Condition Index (VCI) Map showed that almost the entire Eastern Cape continued to experience poor vegetation conditions. 

KZN, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and the Northern Cape received more rain during the period of February to April 2021. The Eastern Cape including the central and southern interior recorded a difference of <-150 mm for the 3- month period. 

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality said the situation was so dire it was considering cutting water consumption by 250 mega litres per day. “Areas such as KwaNobuhle St. Albans will be without water as soon as July!  Other areas will soon follow in August and September” it warned. 

Rainfall has been concentrated largely in the coastal region with no significant events falling in the catchments. 

“The dams were last full in November 2015. Relief rainfall during September 2018 raised combined storage capacity to above 50%, but since then the levels have consistently dropped,” said the municipality. 

Farmsteads around Hankey, Patensie, Loerie, Thornhill and Kwanobuhle in the Gamtoss River Valley depended on water supply from the Kouga Dam. Known for its citrus, cash crops and dairy farming, the area and its farmers were buckling under pressure due to the Kouga Dam falling. 

“Due to the dwindling water reserves, the 132 agricultural water users who rely on the dam for irrigation have been able to draw just 20% of their annual water quota since last July, the lowest release level of the dam is 3.1%,” said RienetteColesky, CEO of the Gamtoss Irrigation Board. 

Colesky also added that even if farmers substituted their water supply by drilling boreholes, the water quality will still not be suitable for agricultural use. 

According to ARC’s Project Leader for Coarse Resolution Imagery Reneilwe Maake, the outlook for rainfall remained uncertain for the reminder of the winter season. 

“The seasonal forecast further predicts the occurrence of above-normal minimum and maximum temperatures over the entire country, thus supporting potential late onset of frost for the maize production areas and a concern for deciduous fruits as high temperatures during winter can alter the length of the dormancy period” she said. 

Prolonged below average rainfall in the catchment areas such as Kouga and Impofu dams have not been full since November 2015 with high water usage at ~ 300 Ml/dexceeding current allocated supply of ~ 268Ml/d.

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