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Sterkfontein Dam brings relief to the Vaal River system 

On Thursday, 3 November 2016, Cabinet was briefed on the impact of the drought on water supplies in South Africa with a particular focus on Gauteng which is supplied with water from the Integrated Vaal River system.

Following the latest Cabinet statement, the Department of Water and Sanitation has started releasing water from its reserve, the Sterkfontein Dam, into the Vaal Dam, as from Monday, 7 November 2016.

The Department’s plan was to release water before the Vaal Dam drops below 25%. The water was released into the Nuwejaarspruit which joins the Wilge River on the outskirts of Harrismith, from which it flows into the Vaal Dam. The release has been done in such a manner that no flooding occurs. 

The Department has asked farmers adjacent to the river to remove pumps, livestock and farming equipment during this period. Farmers are also requested not to abstract the water for agricultural purposes. Offenders will be prosecuted as strict compliance monitoring will be enforced.  Despite the recent rainfall, the Department is urging communities to heed the call to use water sparingly. The public is called upon to use the water-saving tips provided by municipalities which, amongst others, include turning off taps while washing your face, brushing your teeth or shaving, and taking a five-minute shower a day instead of a bath.  

The drought has severely impacted on water supplies with national average dam levels decreasing to 48.4%, compared to the level of 66.6% recorded at the same time last year. We are still very much in a neutral situation and it is very likely that we can expect an extended period of recovery.

While briefing Cabinet, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane said, “It could take at least two to three years to see any significant recovery in dam capacity and this could even extend to five years. We are therefore still in for a long road to recovery.”

The Integrated Vaal River System, consisting of 14 dams which supply water to Gauteng, is currently at 49.1% compared with 67.9% at the same time last year.

Cabinet noted that the Vaal System also provides water to the bulk of the Eskom coal-fired power stations, Sasol, irrigation users and mines and industries in eastern Mpumalanga, North West, the Free State and the Northern Cape, thus supporting approximately 45% of the country's economy and 35% of the population. 80% of the water from the Vaal system is used by domestic consumers. 

This is the third week that the system is below 50% during this drought. The Vaal Dam is now at 26.4%, Katse Dam is at 38.4%, Sterkfontein Dam at 91.5% and Grootdraai Dam is at 66.3%. Restrictions of 15% for urban use and 20% for irrigation use have been imposed as published in the Government Gazette on 12 August. These restrictions are mandatory.

According to the Cabinet statement a Technical Task Team has been established to monitor the implementation of water restrictions. Rand Water is the main supplier of potable water to Gauteng and the target is to reduce the supply from Rand Water by 687 million litres per day.

Mokonyane further said, “All municipalities within the supply area have been given specific targets to meet in respect of reducing their water consumption. The initial approach has been an incremental one with a gradual reduction in supplies, starting at 5% and gradually increasing to 15% by throttling the main valves. As from 3 October we shifted to a volume-based restriction”.

The Vaal dam will be kept at 25% and this will be achieved by transferring water from Sterkfontein Dam. This is necessary to protect the integrity of intakes for Eskom, Rand Water and Sasol. Releases will commence on 7 November and continue for a minimum of 54 days to 30 December.

The minimum release planned at this stage is 190 million cubic metres of water which will drop the level of the Sterkfontein Dam by approximately 7%. The staggered release is to minimise any danger to communities downstream of Sterkfontein and to minimise damage to river banks which have been dry for a considerable period of time.

Cabinet has requested all South Africans to adhere to water restrictions where they are being implemented, and to continue to save water while working with municipalities.

Government is doing all it can to mitigate against the current conditions and is working with all stakeholders in drought-affected areas.

For more on drought visit www.droughtsa.org





Sterkforntein Dam (picture by Lani Van Vuuren)
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