Grahamstown faces a frightening water crisis with just two months left before many city taps run dry.
The Makana Municipality has declared a local state of disaster and imposed strict water restrictions on residents living within the municipal boundaries.
The level of Settlers Dam, the main dam supplying the Western half of the city, is down to 29%, making it impossible for Makana Municipality to pump more water from it.
Normally, the municipality pumps water from Settlers into the smaller Howieson’s Poort Dam from where it is pumped to the Waainek purification plant and supplied to much of the city. Howieson’s Poort is about 79% full but emptying fast.
Makana infrastructure director Dali Mlenzana yesterday explained that once the dam dropped below 30%, the pumps pumped air with the water causing them to cavitate, which caused severe damage to expensive equipment.
Howieson’s Poort has just enough water to supply the Western half of Grahamstown for about 79 days.
The supply to the Eastern side of Grahamstown is secure, but limited.
Its supply comes from the Glen Melville Dam via the Orange River Scheme.
While there may be plenty of water available, Makana Municipality’s production and purification capacity can barely meet demand in Grahamstown East alone.
The municipality is already forced to “throttle” the Botha Hill Reservoir which feeds the area during the night to cope with existing demand, so it is highly unlikely it will be capable of getting water to the rest of the city in the foreseeable future.
The plant is being upgraded to improve its water treatment capacity, Grahamstown spokeswoman Yoliswa Ramakolo said recently.
Only heavy rain could save the day, but Ramakolo said none is forecast.
With current consumption rates – and if no more water can be drawn from Settlers – there would be about two months’ water supply left.
Rhodes University, one of the biggest single users of municipal water in the city, said it had met with the municipality on how it could assist and a concise plan was being drawn up.
“In the meantime, we are doing everything possible to minimise water wastage, such as leaks and burst pipes,” Rhodes spokeswoman Veliswa Mhlope said yesterday.
“Grounds and gardens has also taken massive steps to reduce the use of water with indigenous flora.
“There are also several rainwater tanks around campus.
“There is ongoing research to explore options in terms of using harvested rainwater as a reliable and safe drinking supply,” she said.
Central boarding schools, likely to be worst affected by future shortages, say they are also doing their best to raise awareness among pupils to cut back on consumption and to find alternative water sources.