Cape Town's stringent water restrictions to remain in place... at least for now
Cape Town's strict Level 6B water restrictions will remain in place, at least until the end of August, and will not be relaxed to a less severe level, the Department of Water and Sanitation said on Friday.
Regional head of the Department of Water and Sanitation Rashid Khan said, after a high-level meeting on Friday to discuss the possibility of relaxing the restrictions, that the pace at which the Western Cape supply dams had been filling up was encouraging - but it was "nowhere near 85% where the restrictions can be lifted as per the Gazette of October 2017 and January 2018".
The restrictions will remain in place for Cape Town and surrounding towns, as well as for agriculture.
"Although the system's storage has recovered over the past weeks, rainfall trends for this season still do not show that we have received above average amounts cumulatively," Khan said.
He said the national department would hold another high-level meeting at the end of August, with all sectors that use the Western Cape Water Supply System, to reassess the situation.
"The current water restrictions will remain as they are until the next meeting with water users in August. The rainfall trend up to that date will show the increase or decrease in the management of water restrictions," he said.
Worst drought in 100 years
The combined level of the Cape supply dams was 55.8% on Thursday, compared to 53.05% last week.
Theewaterskloof dam, the largest in the Cape supply system, was 41.2% full on Thursday, compared to 20.3% at the same time last year.
Water experts say that, to recover from three years of drought - the worst in 100 years - the region would need at least one rainy season of above average rainfall, but preferably two.
The meeting was held in response to requests from users of the Western Cape Water Supply System, including the City of Cape Town, irrigation boards and organised agriculture, to reassess the water restrictions now that winter rains have filled supply dams to 55.8% of storage capacity.
Last summer, the department cut the water supply to agriculture by 60%, and by 45% to Cape Town.
The City translated this to Level 6B restrictions, introduced on February 1, which limited each person in Cape Town to 50 litres of water a day. Level 6B restrictions are still in place.
This time last year, the combined storage of the six Cape supply dams was 26% - just under half the 55.8% it is today.
'We have to be cautious'
In May, the combined storage of the six Cape supply dams dropped to an all-time low of 20%.
Khan warned before Friday's meeting that, while the position looked good now, there was no telling whether the rest of the rainy season would bring good rains.
"So we have to be cautious. We would be in a much better position to make an informed decision at the end of August or early September. We don’t control rainfall, we just control what rainfall we get,” Khan said.
The water situation on the West Coast was also looking better, with Voelvlei dam at 54.6%. This supplies 22 towns on the West Coast, and tops up the Misverstand Dam, which supplies Saldanha Bay.
Cape Town Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson said on Thursday that he would like to see water restrictions eased "progressively", from the strict Level 6B restrictions to the less severe Level 5, and then 4.
"This is so that the impact on water demand can be progressively assessed for each level before deciding on a further move," Neilson said.
Level 5 water restrictions allow Capetonians to use 87 litres a person a day, and level 4 restrictions allow 100 litres a person a day.