The dreaded Day Zero, which has been hanging over the heads of the residents of Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) for years, has been averted for the time being.
Thanks to higher than average rainfall and improved dam levels, this municipality’s water supply is steady again for the first time in years. However, the metro warns that water should still be used sparingly, as a dry summer is likely ahead.
According to Garth Sampson, weather forecaster attached to the South African Weather Service (SAWD) in the Eastern Cape, NMB received a record amount of rain in May.
A total of 167.6 mm of rain was recorded in this month. The previous record was set in 2007 when 165 mm of rain was recorded.
“The record rainfall, together with the good rain that followed, improved the situation considerably,” he says.
The dam levels currently stand at 48.81% combined capacity, but only 43.39% of usable water can be diverted to treatment plants and reservoirs in NMB. These levels vary by a few percentage points by the day.
Dams are significantly fuller compared to the same time last year, when the combined capacity stood at a paltry 18%, of which only 13% was usable.
However, Joseph Tsatsire, director of water distribution at the municipality, warns that the improvement in capacity does not mean that residents can now relax – especially not with a drier summer on the way.
“The water situation in the metro has improved, but we are still not out of trouble,” he says.
The metro has set itself a limit of 280 megalitres on daily water use, but at this stage still exceeds its target by 10 megalitres.
“Water restrictions are still in force, which means that residents may only use 50 liters of water per day.”
According to the metro’s drought monitoring framework, any kind of water restrictions can only be lifted when the combined capacity reaches 65%.
Senzo Mchunu, Minister of Water and Sanitation, issued an art. 63 committee sent to NMB to work with the disaster management team to prevent Day Zero.
Mchunu recently withdrew from the committee, putting the management of water resources back fully into the hands of the metro.
Gary van Niekerk, mayor of NMB, says that there will still be a quarterly report to the minister on the state of affairs.
Several dams supply water to the NMB metro. These include the Churchill and Impofu Dams, the Kouga Dam which supplies water to the west and south-west parts of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and the Groendal and Loerie Dams which supply the rest of the metro. The Nooitgedachtdam is also used to help with water supply.
In the past, the NMB metro, and all the areas served by the metro, depended solely on these dams for water.
However, since the severe water scarcity, the metro has devised plans to reduce its dependence on the dams.
“The municipality is investing in the diversification of its water sources to mitigate climate hazards related to rain and surface pond storage,” says Tsatsire.
“More than 10% of the total water consumption in the metro will henceforth come from groundwater.”
Four major groundwater developments have recently been completed in the metro, adding a total yield of 30 megalitres to the water system.
The metro is also scrambling to upgrade aging infrastructure and address any bottlenecks in its distribution network, but incidents of theft are hampering these operations.
Moreover, a dispute between the municipality and the national treasury could now cost the metro millions of rands in financing. This could mean that service delivery, such as the supply of power and water, in Nelson Mandela Bay completely collapses.