Port Elizabeth - The Nooitgedacht Low Level water scheme in Port Elizabeth is in some ways the city's "saving grace" but it would be naive to think that it is the silver bullet for the city's water crisis as it cannot supply water to every citizen in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipal area if the current drought persists.
The Nooitgedacht water-treatment works treats water from the Gariep Dam that borders the Free State and Eastern Cape province. This water then flows via the Orange-Fish River tunnel and a series of connected rivers to the Sundays River irrigation scheme. From there it is piped, via the treatment works, to areas which include Port Elizabeth.
In 2010, Nelson Mandela Bay was declared a drought disaster and shortly after the dry spell ended in 2012, the first phase of the Nooitgedacht scheme was implemented. The scheme was crucial to preventing the city from running out of bulk water supply.
At a prayer session at the Churchill Dam near Kareedouw on Friday, the Nelson Mandela Bay Water and Sanitation Director, Barry Martin, said during July last year the metro took a deliberate decision to stop taking water from the Churchill Dam and use it only as an emergency reservoir.
The metro, which was declared a disaster area last year, announced on Friday that phase three of the Nooitgedacht scheme was currently underway.
"If we go back to the Algoa reconciliation study that was done in the 90's a deliberate decision was taken to build a scheme that would augment water but come from a different rainfall area," said Martin.
"If you go back in time, there has never been a situation where there has been a drought on the Algoa system as well as a drought on the inland system. So, when the drought was inland last time our dams were relatively full and the water in the Gariep Dam was getting low. This time around the Gariep is at about 50 percent and our dams are much lower than that. So it just shows you the separation and the difference we have because of the rainfall areas," said Martin.
"Popular holiday towns such as Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay and Humansdorp are reliant on water from the Nelson Mandela Bay metro's bulk pipe line. The Kouga Municipality is drilling boreholes left right and centre to augment the regions dwindling supply.
"We know from time to time we have to shut Impofu down for operational reasons then we will need water from Churchill. The rains in September last year has contributed to a raising bid, so for intensive purposes [Churchill is] a reserve. The water that we have is of the most importance. When our citizens use less water we then can get to that magic mark and spread the current resources that we have,"said Martin.
Martin said that under normal circumstances, the plan was always that Nooitgedacht would come on stream at an average capacity of 160 million litres per day and if you consider that under normal circumstances if the metro uses 300 million litres per day, 50 percent would come from the Nooitgedacht scheme.
"However in the situation that we find ourselves in now and the fact that we commissioned phase two of Nooitgedacht [in July 2017], it has become the saving grace and the planning that has started many years ago has actually rolled out at the right time for the metro."
Martin said insufficient rainfall over the last two years had aggravated the situation in that the metro was trying to spread out water resources and use it more efficiently.
"We can save the water that is at Churchill Dam and use that more sparingly and let that go further in the future,"he said.
On Monday, the Churchill Dam sat at 19 percent, Impofu at 43.47 percent, Groendal which supplies parts of Uitenhage, at 51.80 percent and Kouga at a critical 7.1 percent.
The total combined capacity of the dams, including at Kouga, was calculated at 24 percent.
During the 2010 drought, the combined water level was at 31 percent.
Rainfall remains scarce. The SA Weather Services (SAWS) had forecast normal to below normal rainfall for the period up until May this year in the Eastern Cape.
From January to date rainfall was recorded at 10.6 mm for Kouga, 12.4mm for Churchill, 3.2mm for Impofu and 20mm for the Loerie Dam.
Religious leaders at the prayer service on Friday blamed the residents of Nelson Mandela Bay for the water scarcity, adding it was a curse.
"The reason we don't have water is because of our disobedience," said Pastor Henry Jacobs from Youth Aflame International.
Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality mayor Athol Trollip appealed to residents to use water conservatively, most preferably 50 litres per person per day as opposed to the 60 litres a day set in the current water restrictions.
Trollip said that too much water was being wasted through leaks and around 28,000 households in the city did not have their water measured. The metro was currently seeking a loan to attend to pressure management, meter replacements and the replacement of pipelines.
African News Agency/ANA