Farmers grateful for heavy rains, but Western Cape govt warns that drought persists

Cape Town's supply dams swelled to 39.1% on Tuesday as run-off from recent rains continued to feed into reservoirs – but the council has warned that the drought-stricken city is nowhere near out of the woods yet.

And while some farmers in the Western Cape's wheat-growing areas are rejoicing at planting crops in moist soil for the first time in three years, others in parts of the Overberg, the southern Cape, Karoo and north of Vredendal on the West Coast are still battling drought conditions.

This week's increase in dam levels is the biggest single weekly increase this year.

READ: Cape Town dam levels rise, but too soon to relax

This week in June 2017 Cape Town's dams were 23% full, in 2016 they were 32.6% full, in 2015 they were 51.2% and in 2014 were 92.5%.

The average level for dams in the whole of the Western Cape is 31.5%, while this week in June 2017 it was 21.2%.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, who spoke at the climate change Adaptation Futures 2018 conference on Tuesday, told delegates that the "new normal" in Cape Town was to be in a permanent drought.

"The rain you're seeing is very little. It will take at least three years for us to deal with the drought in the city," she said.

De Lille said had it not been for the council's water conservation programme over the last 15 years, which included training numerous plumbers to fix leaks, the drought would have been far worse.

READ: Government lifts national drought state of disaster

De Lille commended residents for having reduced daily water consumption from 1.1 billion litres a day to just over 500 million litres.

"The City of Cape Town has been at the coalface of dealing with this for the past three years. We are currently in a serious drought and feeling the impact of climate change through this drought," she said.

By reducing water pressure the city was saving an average of 70 million litres a day.

The Department of Water and Sanitation has said water restrictions will remain in place until spring, because there was no certainty as to whether there would be good, average or poor rainfall for the rest of the winter. All levels of government will meet in early October to make a decision on water restrictions, which will be determined by the dam levels at the time.

Carl Opperman, CEO of Agri-WesCape, said on Tuesday that wheat farmers in the Rooi Karoo, the drier part of the Swartland north of Piketberg, told him they had planted their crop in moist soil for the first time in three years.

ALSO READ: National disaster management donates R42m to Northern Cape farmers crippled by drought

"They have had some good rains, as they have elsewhere in the Swartland. But north of Vredendal they have had only between 4 to 5mm. I have had calls for assistance from farmers in the southern Cape from around Bredasdorp, Swellendam and Mossel Bay, who need help with feed for their livestock.

"The Great Karoo and the Little Karoo are bad. It's very dry in the area north of Vredendal, around Kliprand, Bitterfontein and Nuwerus," Opperman said.

The cumulative June rainfall in a few areas around Cape Town has been equal to or more than the long-term average for this period.

The cumulative rainfall for June this year at Voelvlei is 133mm compared with the long-term average of 108mm and at Wemmershoek 183mm compared with the long-term average of 108mm.

The cumulative rainfall for June this year at Newlands is 175mm and the long-term average of 288mm.

The cumulative rainfall for June this year on Table Mountain is 79mm compared with the long-term average of 242mm; and Blackheath is 32mm compared with 83mm.