The Vaal Dam's water level has dangerously dipped to below 28 percent. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - Water reservoirs are fast running dry as the persistent heatwave gripping Gauteng and other parts of the country aggravates the chronic water shortage.

The gravity of the problem was felt this weekend as areas around Midrand and Kyalami went without water after the reservoirs ran empty. The City of Tshwane also said parts of Laudium and Atteridgeville were without water on Monday as a result of water-supply restrictions by Rand Water.

Spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said more than 10 water tanks had been sent to the affected areas as Operation Hydrate began distributing 5-litre bottles of water as an emergency measure to residents who had been without water for 36 hours. In Joburg, reservoirs in Grand Central in Midrand and Ormonde, Diepkloof and Orlando East in Soweto were running low.

Residents might not have water later on Monday, if consumption was not reduced, Johannesburg Water spokesperson Tidimalo Chuene said.

The Ormonde reservoir supplies water to Ormonde, Crown Gardens, Aeroton, Ridgeway, Gold Reef City and Robertsham, while the Grand Central reservoir supplies Rabie Ridge, Ivory Park, Ebony Park, Allandale and Umthombo.

“Our Grand Central reservoir is showing signs of high usage but reservoir levels are still on normal levels. If water usage remains high, residents will be without water very soon,” Chuene said.

She warned that if residents did not reduce their water usage, the shortage might spread to more suburbs. This could prove dire, as the city would not be sending water trucks to areas with water shortages. Chuene said the city provides water tankers only during planned water interruptions or unplanned ones caused by pipe bursts.

“We advise residents to take this warning seriously.”

The situation is even worse for residents who live in high-lying areas. Chuene said that when water pressure is reduced, residents in high-lying areas will have no water, while those in low-lying areas will experience low water pressure. Chuene said the Midrand reservoir was recovering slowly, but might take a while to fill up.

Residents in the badly affected areas are advised to reduce their consumption to immediate household use only, such as drinking, cooking and flushing the toilet. The City of Joburg has imposed level 2 water restrictions in order to reduce usage by 15 percent, following a Government Gazette notice by the national Department of Water and Sanitation to reduce water use for urban use from the Integrated Vaal River System.

Dams in the system have declined to below 51 percent, while the Vaal Dam has dipped below 28 percent. On Friday, the department said the country’s dam levels were still continuing to drop drastically, despite some good rains experienced recently in several parts of the country.

The department pointed out that at least six weeks of consistent rains were needed to replenish the dams to acceptable levels.Chuene said if the Vaal Dam dropped below 20 percent, the pumping points would be compromised.

Joburg had managed a 4.6 percent water saving since the announcement by the Water and Sanitation Department. However, all that had been wiped out by the sweltering heat, she said. If the city tightened restrictions further, it would have to move to level 3, which would include rationing.

“This is undesirable as it would cause wide-scale water service disruption and extensive damage to the water infrastructure, which can result in significant water losses.

"A further possibility is to invoke a penalty tariff on a per household consumption where consumption does not decrease as opposed to the current surcharge tariff on consumption above 20 000 litres per household each month,” Chuene said.

Wayne Venter, a climatologist at the SA Weather Service, said the heatwave was expected to end on Monday. “We have a small chance of thunderstorms in Gauteng, and there are chances of more rain on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

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The Star