KZN is not out of the woods, water levels still critical – Umgeni Water

Pietermaritzburg – KwaZulu-Natal's water supply is still at serious risk with one of the province's main storage dam levels critically low.

A senior contingent of Umgeni Water officials, led by acting chief executive Thami Hlongwa, dropped the bomb at a media briefing at Albert Falls Dam, where the full impact of the national drought on the province was explained.

Hlongwa said that while KwaZulu-Natal was in a better position than other provinces, there was still a need for residents and business to save water.

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He said Albert Falls, a holding dam, provides and stores water for two million Durbanites.

"We do not want a situation like Cape Town and you will find we have never been that bad, even when our drought was at its height in 2015."

Hlongwa said that KwaZulu-Natal had experienced similar drought levels, but water restrictions and community engagement had helped curtail it.

15% water production reduction

"Residents would not have noticed too much because we have been strategising."

He said, however, that KwaZulu-Natal was behind on its storage goal of 70% for the vital Mgeni system. The system, which comprises Mearns Weir, Spring Grove Dam, Midmar Dam, Albert Falls, Nagle and Inanda dams, supplies most of the province.

He said this meant that the water utility would continue to reduce potable water production by 15% in municipalities including Msunduzi, uMgungundlovu and eThekwini.

He said households, business, industry and government were also expected to reduce water usage by 15%.

Steve Gilham, an official in Umgeni Water's engineering services, said that municipalities in the province were only saving 5%.

"People see rain outside and think when it rains there is water. Also, there is general fatigue. People have been hearing and trying to be better for the drought for so long."

Day Zero 'impossible'

He said that while some dams were near full, it cost a great amount of electricity to move water between dams.

"We receive R2.5m fines from Eskom for using pumps too much. If you continue pumping, the price of water goes up, and the pumps are not meant to be used 24/7. The dams have to ultimately fill themselves up."

He said that KwaZulu-Natal was still not out of the woods because of low rainfall in previous years.

"In 2015/16 we had some of the lowest rains we have ever had. In October and November, we had good rains, but in December [and] January did not get the good rains we needed."

He added: "The Umgeni catchment effects are still lingering because of the lack of rainfall over time."

He said the 70% target for the Mgeni system was for May.

"If we get to 70%, all restrictions will be lifted."

He said the province would only experience Day Zero (when tap water supply is shut down) in two years, and that was provided there was no rain at all.

"That is almost impossible."