Dams filling up, but keep the champagne corked for now
Cape dams showing signs of reviving after rainfall and snow, but experts say the problems are by no means over
The past few days have seen dams in the Western Cape showing signs of healthy life after torrential rainfall fell and snow hit several areas in the province.
Parts of the drought-ravaged Northern Cape were also wrapped in a cold blanket of snow, as were parts of the Eastern Cape on the other side.
But, say the experts, it is cause for temporary celebrations only.
“This is temporary relief from the drought situation,” cautions Professor Bob Scholes, a climate expert from the University of the Witwatersrand. “It will take a lot of precipitation to recharge the aquifers to the same health of five years ago. It isn’t just about filling the dams.”He said the longer term issue was not caused by the reduction in rainfall.
This, he said, “revealed rather than caused” the problem: the main issue is the “ever-growing demand for water in the Western Cape which is not being addressed structurally”.
Major dams in the province saw an increase of more than 5% in the past week, with Theewaterskloof Dam getting 51mm of rain and the Berg River Dam getting 159mm.The dams feeding the City of Cape Town are at around 48% compared to 25% this time last year.
The Western Cape MEC for local government, environmental affairs and development planning, Anton Bredell, said all the catchment areas are showing marked improvement, except the Gouritz River Catchment that provides water to areas that include the central Karoo.
“Areas in the Karoo, the Klein Karoo, Boesmanland and Langkloof are still waiting for relief. On a provincial level, we must continue to adhere to water restrictions and reduce water demand.”According to Scholes, while the fuller dams were of course a source of happiness, “the underlying drivers of the drought are still in tact, and we will see a return to water shortages when we get the next cycle of low rain”.
He said water restrictions could perhaps be “relaxed a little” but that “low consumption and vigilance” were still imperative.
Also, he said, “severe rainfall events after drought can be disadvantageous if vegetation has been harmed by the drought and is unable to slow down the run-off”.He said that all things being equal, one would want “rainfall that comes in gentle storms over a longer period of time” rather than a deluge.
It is similar with snow too, he said.“Snow is a preferable way to get precipitation because it melts gradually,” but in South Africa, the amount was so little it could hardly put a dent in the drought.
According to a report recently released by C40 Cities, global water demand is set to rise by 55% by the year 2050. By then, around 6.4 billion people will be living in urban areas – some of which will be water-scarce.