The worrying lack of water in the dams of the Western Cape of South Africa was well-reported.
Cape Town had a “Day Zero”, when the water supply to the city would have ceased. Luckily, the winter rains have pushed this day back a long way as the dams slowly refill.
Less widely reported is the state of some of the dams in the Eastern Cape. For Port Elizabeth, the main city in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, the main supply dams dropped, on Wednesday, to 18.5 percent of combined capacity.
In early July it was reported by the African News Agency that the combined capacity of the metro’s dam levels sat at 19.27 percent. Residents in the city were then restricted to using 50 litres of water per day per person. This may have to tighten more.
According to the Municipality website, November 2015 was the last time “our dams were filled to 100 percent capacity.“
Since then the catchment areas have had very little rain. The month of June 2017 saw the lowest rainfall of the previous 20 years, with only 2.5mm precipitation for the entire month, a mere 4 percent of average.
The last time such low levels and accompanying drought were apparent was in 2009-10. A disaster declaration was announced in March 2010 and lasted for over a year. This time around, the disaster announcement was made in July 2017 and is still in force. Current water usage, without significant rain, would put Port Elizabeth’s Day Zero at some point in December 2018.
Luckily, winter rain has just arrived. Over the last week, the rain gauge in Port Elizabeth has recorded 57mm. This is not a huge amount but throughout the catchment area will be very useful. It also equates to the average rainfall for the whole month; Port Elizabeth is not a wet place.
The forecast is promising for the next three days. Another 75mm of rain is possible, in the western half of the Eastern Cape, over the catchment area for the dams that serve Nelson Mandela Bay and the City of Port Elizabeth.