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Low Vaal Dam water levels are 'scary'

Dead fish in the Vaal Dam, a major water source for Gauteng. The water level is dropping at an alarming rate. Picture: Itumeleng English

Dead fish in the Vaal Dam, a major water source for Gauteng. The water level is dropping at an alarming rate. Picture: Itumeleng English

Published Aug 25, 2016

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Johannesburg - If it doesn't rain in the next few weeks, residents of Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga could face water shortages and stricter water restrictions.

Concerns are rising as the levels of the Vaal Dam continue to drop drastically due to the drought.

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The dam supplies around 12 million South Africans, and as of Wednesday, the water level was at only 33.8 percent full. This time last year, it was at around 74 percent full.

The Star spent Wednesday on the Deneysville side of the Vaal Dam in the Free State, where the dire situation was visible. Where there should have been deep water, there was only sand, dead fish and barren, cracked land, with the banks of the Vaal starting only near the middle of the dam.

The hardest hit by the drought are fishermen and those in the boat business. Among them is Rusty Dlomo, 36, a father-of-two, who said the fishing business was suffering terribly.

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"This time last year I was able to catch between 20 and 30 large fish a day. I would sell most of them and also take some home to feed my family.

"Now I'm only able to get two or three if I'm lucky. They're small and I can't sell them or make a living off them. This is my only income, we're struggling," he said.

"In January, the water still reached all the way up to the houses," he said.

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Another fisherman, Ishmael Mokwena, 70, said he had been fishing in the dam for the past 20 years. "I've never seen it this low before. It's really bad and has been getting worse over the past few months. It used to be full with a lot of fish," he said.

While he waded back into the water to carry on fishing, Mokwena shouted with a smile: "Rain is coming, we are hopeful, we won't give up yet!"

Senior water consulting officer for the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) at the Vaal, Pieter Vermaak, said they were losing about 10cm a day, "which is quite a lot".

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"To watch the Vaal over the last years go from full to empty is quite scary, it's becoming a problem," he said.

DWS spokesman Sputnik Ratau said they were extremely concerned. "It's a very difficult situation. The whole system is under stress at the moment. The only way it will recover is if we see early summer rains.

"The Vaal Dam is the main source of water to Rand Water.

"We are in discussions with the metros with regard to a timeline of when and if we will put more water restrictions in place."

Ratau explained that if domestic water use was reduced by 15 percent and the agricultural and mining sectors decreased their usage by 20 percent, "it might help to stabilise the situation".

Ratau said the department had contingency plans and that they could receive water from other places like the Sterkfontein Dam if the Vaal Dam's level falls below 30 percent.

He encouraged people to use water sparingly. "Re-use and recycle your water, refrain from watering gardens and also take shortened showers instead of bathing," he advised.

News on expected rainfall in the country in spring is not promising.

SA Weather Service forecaster Dipuo Tawana said Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga would experience low rainfall, just like most parts of the country.

"During spring we are expecting below normal rainfall. For example, if in September we had been expecting 60mm of rainfall, we are likely to see 50mm or less.

"We are not going to recover quickly from the drought, because the temperatures will be above average, which means there will be high evaporation." - Additional reporting by Kgopi Mabotja

@Lanc_02

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