Dam serious: Grahamstown races towards Day Zero
Main dam will probably run dry by mid-February as town scrambles a tight water-rationing plan
Rhodes university students, Grahamstown residents, schools, old-age homes and even estate agents are barely keeping their heads above water as the Makana local municipality faces the real threat of Day Zero.
The municipality, which governs the town of Grahamstown and surrounding areas in the Eastern Cape, anticipates that its main supplier dam will be completely dry by mid-February.
Its main supplier dam levels are critically low: Settlers Dam is at 12.1%;
Howieson's Poort is at 22.7%;
Minler is at 15%; and
Jameson is at 0%. The municipality, in a statement on its website, says it will be difficult to recover from the crisis unless the area receives significant rainfall.
“We are restricting consumption to 50 litres per person a day with immediate effect, to be able to use the Settlers supply for longer and push back the date at which it ceases to be viable,” said the municipality.
“At the current levels and usage we anticipate that around the middle of February the supply from Settlers will cease. When that happens, the 10 megalitres of water that is supplied to the city from the James Kleynhans Purification Works will need to be shared by everyone, and a water-rationing plan is being developed.”
The municipality says a shutdown schedule is being developed to help residents and businesses plan around scheduled outages that will take place after the middle of February.
Rhodes University’s Dr Iain L’Ange, a director of infrastructure, operations and finance, said the university has had a water outage plan and protocols in place since 2013. “In 2013, Grahamstown experienced a water crisis and we have been able to base our water outage plans on the experience we gained during that time.”
He said the students and parents were being kept up to date with the water situation through e-mails, its website and social media platforms. “We are also embarking on a water-saving campaign at the university to create awareness to students about how they can do their part to save water.”
The university is currently installing smart water meters in all of the residences. The meters are programmable, and once the water volume allocation has been provided, the valve will shut off. “The residents will need to self-regulate to ensure that no more than 10 litres is used per shower and that there is no excessive or wasteful laundry usage,” he said.
After the installations, sports ablution areas would be addressed.
“All residence students will be provided with basins to be used for the collection of shower water. This grey water will be used for the flushing of toilets in the residences. The supply of municipal water to the residence toilets will be shut off,” he said.
Drinking water would be available in the dining halls, and residence students would be given water bottles to replenish from tanks to avoid the proliferation of plastic water bottles.
PMATs will be installed in all urinals on campus and automatic water flushing will be reduced. “Unnecessary crockery and cutlery like side plates and saucers will be withheld in the dining halls, and plates will be wiped with paper before washing to reduce water usage,” he added.
The cleaning services would make greater use of chemical sprays to cut down on using water to clean the ablution areas.
“Borehole water will be made available to the rest of campus for the flushing of toilets, depending on the location of ablution areas.”
Khaki-coloured tanks would be used for drinking water while grey-coloured tanks would contain grey water for flushing toilets.
Washing of windows and vehicles at the university has been halted.
L'Ange said they have been working with the municipality for months to mobilise resources and plan for when the Settlers and Howieson’s Poort dams are depleted.
“This includes representations at ministerial level and the establishment of partnerships with the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC) and the relevant provincial government departments. At the same time we have offered our expertise and resources for the municipality’s plans to purify the groundwater, so that borehole water can be safe to drink.”
An estate agent, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed the crisis was affecting their businesses but also said there were “no worries”.
“We are in trouble but we’ve experienced the same a few years back and people buy houses for the love of the place not because there’s no water. There are always alternatives. No town has shut down because there’s no water.”
The municipality planned a schedule for water tankers to distribute water to different council wards. “There will also be collection points, replenished daily, where residents will be able to collect their daily allocation of water. You will need to provide your own containers to collect a maximum of 25 litres per household per day.”
Water will also be delivered to hospitals, old-age homes, clinics and schools.