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Premier Zille delivers progress update on drought disaster interventions in municipalities

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille today announced progress on interventions the Province is staging in municipalities, as part of the Drought Disaster declaration. She was joined by Local Government MEC Anton Bredell and a team of expert officials.

The provincial government has been granted increased powers under the Disaster Management Act to coordinate urgent Water Supply projects in municipalities. Instructions have also been issued to municipalities on managing their water demand and restrictions levels.

Average provincial dam levels stood at 32.4% as of this week, compared to over 100% in 2014.

“Geo-Hydrologists have been appointed in all districts to manage groundwater operations. Provincial engineers are partnering with municipalities to track their water usage. Our Disaster Management services are working flat out on priority projects worth R295 million,” the Premier said.

“This is a whole of society effort by Team Western Cape, including residents who are doing their bit to save water in their own homes and businesses. We can avoid Day Zero, but only if we work together,” said Zille.

Provincial and municipal budgets have been reprioritised to fund the R295 million priority programme, said Graham Paulse, Head of the Local Government Department.

“Some national disaster relief funding was also received this week. We have been expecting this money for some time. We welcome the funds – R40 million will go to feed aid for farmers, and the remainder to the Cape metro, Theewaterskloof and Bitou. More funding is required however, and we are preparing applications in this respect,” said Mr Paulse.

Colin Deiner, the province’s Head of Disaster Management, said High Risk municipalities are considered to be Beaufort West, Kannaland, Knysna and Bitou.

Medium risk municipalities are concentrated in the West Coast and Cape Winelands districts, as well as parts of the Southern Cape – Hessequa, Oudtshoorn and George.

“We are working with these municipalities to drill boreholes, equip pump stations and lay pipelines where required. Schools and hospitals in priority areas have also been identified for borehole drilling,” said Mr Deiner, who had previously coordinated the largest disaster effort in the province’s history in June this year, following the Cape Storm and fires in southern coastal areas.

Interventions underway in High Risk municipalities include:

  • Beaufort West – Equipping and connecting of 8 boreholes; New pipeline to Kleinhansriver Pump Station (R34 million);
  • Knysna – Upgrading of Charlsford and Eastford supply schemes; Refurbishing the local Desalination Plant; and various demand management initiatives (R140.5mil);
  • Bitou – Drilling and equipping of 12 boreholes (R20.5mil); and
  • Kannaland – Install temporary pipeline to move abstraction point upstream; repair channels and pipes; ramp up War on Leaks (R3.8m).

“These municipalities have an estimated supply of approximately 3 months of water. Beaufort West and Kannaland are located in very dry parts of the province generally. In the case of Knysna, the system has historically allowed for only 90 days of reserves, but risk levels have heightened and supply interventions are underway,” said Mr Deiner.

Joyene Isaacs, Head of the province’s Agriculture Department, said their assistance to farmers would total some R68 million by the end of August.

“We’ve spent R11 million each month on animal feed to support around 1 300 farmers, most of them smallholders. The additional national funding received this week will be put to good use,” said Ms Isaacs.

The provincial Agriculture department had initiated proceedings – through provincial Disaster Management and municipalities – to declare disasters in the worst affected regions as early as 2015.

Ms Isaacs said the Department had managed to divert some of the worst case scenarios that research had projected for the sector. An analysis by the department’s economists had previously found that a 10% reduction in yields, as a result of the drought, could cost the economy R3.2 billion and place 17 000 jobs under threat.

Economic Opportunities Minister Alan Winde said: “The threat of jobs losses as a result of the drought is my biggest concern. Analysis conducted by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, show that if 30% less irrigation water is available from the Theewaterskloof and Bergriver water systems for an extended time during a production period, there could be job losses of around 1 700 in the fruit and wine industries. A worst case scenario, which has not come into effect, is a total ban on irrigation water during the summer months. This would place around 20 000 jobs under threat.”

“We have managed to avert these scenarios. Through Project Khulisa, we are driving focused action plans to grow agriculture and agri-processing. We have also managed to prevent job losses through partnerships with farmers who have implemented conservation agriculture. Despite the drought, agriculture jobs have increased over the past three years, since the launch of Project Khulisa. According to the latest figures from Statistics South Africa, 180 000 residents are currently employed in primary agriculture. This is up from 142 000 in the same quarter in 2014. Agri processing jobs have grown from 232 285 to 247 186 over the same time period,” said Winde.

Local Government MEC Anton Bredell said his department will seek a national platform in Parliament for the Province and City of Cape Town to share the current status, challenges and ongoing concerns relating to the Western Cape water situation. An approach would be made to Standing Committee Chairperson, Lulu Johnson.

A number of longer term projects required the urgent attention of the Department of Water and Sanitation, which holds the constitutional mandate for major water supply schemes.

These included the extension of the Voelvlei and Clanwilliam dam walls, and general infrastructure projects across the Western Cape that make up a portion of the Province’s Drought Risk Register, which totals R4.8 billion.

“The Province has for several years projected that water demand would exceed supply by 2019. Municipal plans geared towards this deadline have been shifted forward by 2 years, due to the severity of the current drought. The province’s disaster declaration is helping to coordinate this effort,” said Bredell.

Bredell said they were hoping to see the same degree of urgency from the national Water and Sanitation department.

He appealed to the public to allow the province’s dams as much space as possible to recover. “Even if it is raining cats and dogs outside, please do not go over your local water restrictions limit. We are operating under the New Normal, where we cannot assume that the drought will break. We have a long way to go to get out of this crisis. We need the whole of society to work together if we are to avoid Day Zero.”

Bredell also welcomed the City of Cape Town’s Water Resilience Plan announced by Mayor Patricia De Lille earlier this month.

The plan will see the City’s water supply augmented by 500 million litres per day, through a range of methods including desalination, groundwater and water re-use. The City’s Demand management strategy also remained focused at limiting usage to 500 million litres per day.