‘Dammed’ if they do, ‘dammed’ if they don’t

Lovely rains in the Eastern Cape and the rising of the dam levels has set consumers’ hopes soaring that water restrictions will ultimately be lifted and the high water tariffs decreased.

But it appears there is talk of there not being enough water for everyone’s needs and that the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) could recommend to Nelson Mandela Bay Council, The Metro, that restrictions should not be lifted. Kouga Municipality and others are then also likely to follow suit.
The current situation is that the Churchill dam is not yet 100% full, the Kouga dam is at 100% the Churchill is at 79% % and Impofu at 54.9 %).  (As at 27 June 2011 just before this edition went to Press).
The Churchill and Impofu dams are the main source of our water supply. The reason why the Impofu Dam is not filling up as quickly as Churchill is because the Impofu shares the same catchment as Churchill.
They are both on the Kromme River. Usually for the Impofu to receive a lot of water, requires the Churchill to overtop. The Impofu has 2 other rivers – Diep and Leeubosch – that flow into the dam, but their catchments are very small.
Some water experts believe that lifting water restrictions is against everyone’s best interest right now. Even if all the dams were 100% full, the experts contend that the total storage capacity is insufficient to carry us through drought periods.
The DWA is likely to give its recommendations this month of July to the Metro, which can ignore the water body’s advice if it so wishes, but it is highly likely that the Metro may well follow the DWA advice. In the interim consumers are waiting the decision with
bated breath
And the month of June saw an increasing number of debates in the Eastern Cape and opinion polls such as the one on Radio Algoa’s website that indicates that 56% of pollers want water restrictions lifted, 18% never want them lifted, while the remainder have various conditions.
There have been comments by consumers posted on websites with allegations that the Metro and Kouga Municipality wish to make money out of consumers so will not lift restrictions or decrease tariffs. And the Nelson Mandela business chamber has written to the Metro asking that they revert back to the old tariffs.
Comments have ranged from ”It’s totally unacceptable” to continue with water restrictions, to comments like: “They’ll tap every cent out of us…”; “You would think we could get some relief”; “I think there is going to be a huge outcry”; They are being over cautious”; “If it was their intention never to lift restrictions then they should have been open about it from the beginning; they are shifting the goal posts”; and “The Metro cannot account for in excess of 30% of it’s water lost monthly.”
Experts have remarked on the irony that when there are water restrictions, the municipality actually loses money because all the poorer people rigidly use less water or hardly any and only the very wealthy couldn’t care a damn (excuse the pun) and so the municipality only gets in a little revenue for water. Alternatively, when there are no restrictions, then everyone wastes water and water consumption goes up so the municipality makes more money…
“The municipality will be ‘dammed’ if they do or ‘dammed’ if they don’t it seems… but if for argument’s sake, the DWA recommends water restrictions because of insufficient water supply for future needs, and the Metro disregards this advice then there could be all hell to play here if there is another huge drought,” one person commented.
While most people would think that we now have plenty of water, Chris Cowling, a water specialist who worked for Metro for 20 years, gives reasons why lifting water restrictions is not necessarily a good idea.
Rainfall in our catchment areas is very low. The Kouga catchment has an average annual rainfall of 497mm. The Kromme catchment has an average annual rainfall of 600mm.
“As can be seen, these are very low average annual rainfall figures. We must not forget that the Metro relies on most of its water from these 2 catchment areas. The Kromme catchment feeds the Churchill and Impofu Dams.
“The Metro had a meeting with Water Affairs (in the last week of June 2011) about the way forward. I think that we should wait for the outcome of that meeting, before we can really comment on the results of the meeting,” Cowling advises.
Generally, in the past, water restrictions were lifted when total capacity exceeded 60%. However the increase in population numbers and the supply of potable water to all households has changed the dynamics of water consumption in the region. This has resulted in more pressure being put on our reserve capacity. “In other words, our dams do not have enough storage capacity to last us through relatively long term droughts.”
“With a total storage capacity of 278 545 ML in our dams and a daily usage of about 250 ML gives us only 3 years of reserve. Can we afford that?”
Cowling adds that he finds it hard to believe that the Metro wants to make money out of the restrictions.” Generally, even with the stepped tariff in place, the majority of consumers stick to their limits. It is only the few wealthy individuals who can afford to pay the increased rate. Until we can get actual figures, I would not comment on that statement.
“It’s time South Africans realise that we cannot continue wasting water. We cannot afford Reverse Osmosis Plants. They are high energy consumers as well as high wastage plants. Up to 40% of water pumped is sent back as waste.”
Cowling believes though that the Metro can ease restrictions, by allowing hoses to be used only during certain times of day, e.g. from 5 pm to 8 pm (Cape Town consumers have similar, continuous restrictions in place). This will ensure that no water is wasted due to hot conditions. “Keeping a stepped tariff in place will ensure that the majority of consumers will not waste water, because they cannot afford it.”
Cowling says that what needs to be done is the enforcement of rain harvesting, the banning of automated sprinkler systems, the planting of indigenous gardens. When it comes to commerce and industry, business leaders need to negotiate with the Water Authorities on the way forward. “It is amazing how effective restrictions can be on the consumption of water in these industries. A lot of industries have developed water saving initiatives, resulting in huge savings. More is needed.”

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