Water rations forecast if heat persists

By DUNCAN GUY Time of article published Sep 20, 2014

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Durban - Brace yourself for dry weeks ahead and the possibilities of water restrictions.

Dam levels in KwaZulu-Natal have fallen and below average rain is forecast for the months ahead.

This means water rationing could be on the cards, Umgeni Water, the province’s main water provider has warned.

Further salt to this worry wound is that if good rains don’t fall by the middle of next month, consumers can expect to feel the pinch of increased food prices.

“At the moment the dryness is adding to farmers’ costs rather than their output,” KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) president Michael Black told The Independent on Saturday.

Adding to the heat this week have been uncontrolled fires that have raged in the Midlands and towards the southern Drakensberg amid howling winds and soaring temperatures.

Then there’s the El Nino effect that is expected, said Shami Harichunder, spokesman for Umgeni Water.

“El Nino is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly, usually once in every three to seven years. It leaves in its trail low rainfall in some parts of the world, drought in some countries and floods in many other parts of the globe.

“Operational meteorologists in South Africa have predicted that the trend of low rainfall experienced thus far is likely to continue until January 2015 – through the spring and early summer months when the highest rainfall usually occurs – in KwaZulu-Natal, in general, and in the Umgeni Water catchment areas, in particular.”

Harichunder said the effects of drought are already being felt in the Middle South Coast region – also known as the Mzinto System – where the levels of the three dams there, EJ Smith, Nungwane and Umzinto, have fallen drastically and are fast depleting.

Rainfall levels

“The level of the EJ Smith Dam is currently at 11 percent, Nungwane Dam is at 32 percent and Umzinto Dam is at 29 percent. By all accounts this is a crisis situation as there is insufficient water available to meet demand.”

Harichunder added that the Ixopo System and the North Coast System were “already in a state of stress”.

He said there were no immediate concerns about water shortages in the Mgeni System for the current year. It supplies the eThekwini region, uMgungundlovu and northern Ugu district and Pietermaritzburg.

“Depending on the rainfall levels received during the coming months, this could become an issue in mid-2015.

However, he warned consumers that they could eventually be in for restrictions.

“If water conservation measures are implemented now, there may be sufficient water available to meet future needs.”

On the fire front, howling winds made it impossible for aircraft to bomb blazes using water.

“They (pilots) couldn’t fly out of Shafton (air field, near Howick) most of today. The wind was too strong and dangerous,” Simon Thomas, operation manager for the KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association, said.

“At the moment it’s tinder, tinder, tinder dry out there.

“We have not had decent rains since April. The rain we have had has been sparse and very little.”

Thomas said that dry years happened in cycles – “2007 and 2008 were bad. It’s been pretty quiet since then, but it’s coming again.”

Among the farmers who are hard hit by the dry conditions are those who have just planted potatoes. “They will need to irrigate,” said Kwanalu’s Black.

“And those with extensive livestock will need to buy in feed because there has been no growth in the natural veld.”

Things appeared less dire in certain game reserves. “The end of winter is always a crunch period for animals when food resources and water availability is at the lowest,” said Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesman Musa Mntambo.

“The relatively late summer rains have, however, helped as there is still surface water available and conditions are not yet critical and have certainly been worse in previous years.” Areas such as aPongolo and uMkhuze, which were traditionally affected by drought, were “still okay”.

Independent on Saturday

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