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Dry taps for 100-plus areas by June in Nelson Mandela Bay

‘We must urgently reduce our consumption ... and then pray’ — Bay water boss

05 May 2022 - 08:21 By Guy Rogers
The Churchill Dam, pictured, and Impofu Dam, both on the Kromme River system west of Humansdorp, whose supply has long been the lifeblood of Nelson Mandela Bay. But today they are close to empty.
FADING FAST: The Churchill Dam, pictured, and Impofu Dam, both on the Kromme River system west of Humansdorp, whose supply has long been the lifeblood of Nelson Mandela Bay. But today they are close to empty.
Image: SUPPLIED

There is less than 3% of water left in Nelson Mandela Bay’s storage dams and when these run dry, so will more than 100 areas across the city.

In an address to a closed session with councillors on Tuesday, followed up with a statement on Wednesday, water and sanitation director Barry Martin said unless consumption could be cut by 50 megalitres a day, this grim scenario was a certainty.

“Even with the successful expansion of the Nooitgedacht treatment works there is not enough water at the current rate of consumption to allow us to distribute supply to these 107 suburbs, which constitute 40% of the metro,” he told councillors.

“In 38 days we will no longer be able to deliver to this area, which includes the western suburbs, the Uitenhage-KwaNobuhle area and peri-urban parts like Greenbushes, where the St Albans Correctional Services Facility, one of the biggest prisons in the Eastern Cape, is situated.

“It’s a very precarious situation and the elephant in the room is the basic water supply we need for sanitation.

“And then there are services like firefighting.

“It’s a very scary picture.

“We have no choice but to urgently reduce our consumption.

“Then we need to go down on our knees and pray.”

There is less than 3% of water left in Nelson Mandela Bay’s storage dams and when these run dry, so will more than 100 areas across the city.
There is less than 3% of water left in Nelson Mandela Bay’s storage dams and when these run dry, so will more than 100 areas across the city.
Image: Supplied

A recording of Martin’s presentation to councillors was leaked to The Herald.

In his presentation, Martin said though in July 2021 the combined level of the Bay’s western dams was 10.8% and was now at a similar level almost a year later — at 13.2% — the metro was in a worse position.

“Though the Kouga is in better shape, we share the Kouga with the Gamtoos agricultural community and we have just about used up our full allocation from that dam.”

He said in four to six weeks the metro would not be able to extract any more water from the Impofu Dam, even with the low-level pumps on barges that had been deployed on the dam for more than a year. 

“The real low percentages are in the Churchill and Impofu, the supply of which is traditionally the lifeblood of Nelson Mandela Bay.

“That is why we are in a worse position now with July 2022 still to come.

“We have just 2.53% of water left altogether from our western storage dams for us to extract for human consumption.

“And that means that potentially unless we have significant rainfall, or we urgently and dramatically reduce our consumption, by the end of May or early June, Churchill and Impofu will run out and the 107 [areas] which rely on this supply will hit dry taps.”

Martin said based on the current consumption, the dams were dropping an average of 0.06% each day.

Linked to this, according to the SA Weather Service forecast, below-average rainfall was predicted for the metro for the next four months.

An analysis of past dry years gave little cause for hope either.

“It shows 1982-1994 was one of the worst periods. 

“So that’s a  period of just over 10 years and we are now into the seventh year of the current drought, which has been with us since 2015,” he said.

Some good news was that an extra 30 megalitres a day would be delivered by the Coega Kop, St George’s, Bushy Park and Moregrove boreholes.

“But that will only be after July-August when they are completed.”

Martin said another piece of good news was that with the integration of the phase three expansion project, the Nooitgedacht Water Treatment Works at Sunland on the northern perimeter of the metro was now producing 209ML/d.

“But our current consumption at 280ML/d is still too high for this supply to save us.

“Once we lose the dams, our overall supply will drop from 272ML/d to just 231ML/d from Nooitgedacht plus the bit of water we get from the old Sand and Bulk dams, the Kariega spring and Groendal Dam.

“If we don’t save water in the area north of the Stanford Road pump station, we will not have any to transfer to our southern and western areas that rely on the main storage dams, even when the KwaNobuhle pump station is complete.”

He said if the water-saving scenario could be achieved, it could be the metro’s saving grace.

“If we can cut our consumption by this much then once we have completed the KwaNobuhle pump station by the middle or end of June, we will be able to transfer water from Nooitgedacht through the Chelsea Reservoir and KwaNobuhle pump station and in that way distribute to the southern and western parts of the metro.

“But we are currently consuming 275ML/d. In April, we were up to 290ML/d.

“We need to reduce to below 230ML/d.”

He said water-shedding was not an option because it would result in skewed supply to high-lying and low-lying areas when valves were closed.

It would also compromise water quality as the velocity of water moving through the pipes changed and sedimentation was loosened.

In addition, it would increase pressure on the metro's already fragile and overworked water grid.

There would be more burst pipes and more water would be lost than saved.

Martin said the best strategy was to deploy water tankers and install water-collection points.

His team would be pressing forward with this strategy if the dams failed.

But he said these interventions with all the security, cost and organisational challenges they would trigger, could still be avoided.

“We need to use a maximum of 50l per person per day and not more than 6ML a month for an average four-person household.

“That will bring down our consumption dramatically, but only if everyone plays their part.”

After Tuesday’s presentation, Martin’s team engaged with the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber on Wednesday.

On Thursday, mayor Eugene Johnson is due to host a multiplatform public information session, starting at 6pm.

The Despatch Town Hall, Uitenhage Town Hall, Gelvandale Community Hall, Kuyga Community Hall, Linton Grange Library,  City Hall council chamber and Nangoza Jebe Hall will be opened to allow the public to watch this session live.

It will also be accessible via the municipality’s Facebook and YouTube sites and on Mpuma Kapa TV on channel 260 on DStv. 

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