Neels Blom Writer at large
About 40% of Gauteng’s water flows through this 96m intake tower in the Katse Dam in central Lesotho via a series of underground tunnels, through to the Vaal Dam in Gauteng. Picture: MATTHEW SAVIDES
About 40% of Gauteng’s water flows through this 96m intake tower in the Katse Dam in central Lesotho via a series of underground tunnels, through to the Vaal Dam in Gauteng. Picture: MATTHEW SAVIDES

The water and sanitation department is alarmed about a sharp drop of 4.8 percentage points from 73.2% to 68.4% in the average level of SA’s dams over the past month. 

It has renewed its call for water users to conserve as much water as possible.

The greatest concern was for water supply in North West, where dam levels had fallen to 53.4% from 72% during the same period last year, the department said on Wednesday.

SA’s rainfall over the past three months has been below average and the heatwave prevailing in the hinterland has increased evaporation and water consumption, says the department.

Hydrologists are concerned that if the trend continues unabated, the government may be forced to re-introduce stringent water restrictions. A recent workshop by hydrologists at the department predicted below-normal rainfall over the next three months.

Dry conditions that lead to drought in Southern African are usually caused by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, in which oceanic warming of the Pacific affects the atmospheric jet stream. This in turn alters rainfall patterns over much of the world.

Despite the high temperatures, Gauteng dams have remained stable over the past week at 96.3%, followed by Free State at 79.6%, Northern Cape at 71.2%, Western Cape at 67.9%, Mpumalanga 67.8%, Eastern Cape at 61.7%, Limpopo 60.7% and North West at a low of 53.4%.

North West has 463.3m³ of water in storage, which is half its storage capacity of 868.1m³.

The department, the provincial government and the Ngaka Modiri district municipality are convening to tackle what a departmental spokesperson described as a looming crisis.

The department said the dire conditions also in the Nelson Mandela Bay area have improved, but water levels are still low in the area. The Algoa Water Supply System (with dams such as Kouga Dam and others in the regions) was at 53.9% this week, it said.

“The system is not out of the woods yet as it is still not at its capacity, therefore residents are urged to adhere to water restrictions.”

The Integrated Vaal River system, which supplies 14 dams, and Sasol and Eskom, was at 72.9%, the department said. Cape Town average level was at 70.8%.