AGRICULTURE: Dire water shortages from rivers running dry in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and the central and southern part of the Western Cape, in what AgriSA terms the “worst drought in 130 years”, have focused attention on the lack of regional infrastructure plans and a regulating authority to oversee water pricing, according_ to Business Report.
South Africa’s leading business daily says that emergency measures have had to be taken, including trucking in water and a planned desalination plant at Knysna to avert a disaster facing mainly dairy and vegetable farmers, who have dedicated supply lines to retail outlets but have cut back on their production. AgriSA Western Cape chief executive Carl Opperman said:“This will have a ripple effect down the supply chain ultimately.”
AgriSA predicted that countless farmers were facing insolvency in the coming year. It blamed this on years of neglect of infrastructure with no significant dams being built for lean times, as well as departmental dilly-dallying on allowing farmers to raise farm dam capacity.
At present, the country’s Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica determines water prices after negotiating with water boards, which sell water to municipalities. The argument is that an independent water regulator would provide the platform for realistic prices. Opperman said a number of southern Cape rivers running from the Outeniqua Mountains ran into the sea within six hours of rain falling in the catchment area. This water could otherwise be stored.
For example, the Ernest Robertson Dam on the Groot Brak River near George in the southern Cape is 90 percent full but its capacity is just 0.4 million cubic metres. The Wolwedans Dam on the same river, with a capacity of 25 million cubic metres, is 39 percent full, down from more than 90 percent a year ago.
The Garden Route Dam on the Swart River has a capacity of 9 million cubic metres but is now only 30 percent full, down from 92 percent a year ago, according to the Department of Water Affairs.
Water is reportedly being pumped from the Orange River from a tunnel at Gariep Dam in the Free State into the Fish River to ensure appropriate supply for the Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and other cities in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropole in the Eastern Cape.