More than 200 citrus, vegetable and dairy farms in the Gamtoos River Valley that rely on water from the Kouga Dam will have their annual water allocation for 2017/18 slashed by 60%.
This was announced by the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) at the end of last week.
The decision to allocate farmers only 40% of their annual water allocation was taken as the dam reaches 18.6% capacity – a level last witnessed in 1991.
According to GIB officials, only 2mm of rain fell into the Kouga Dam’s catchment area between April and June this year.
GIB chairman Tertius Meyer said the board met with the water department on 29 June to discuss the allocation cuts.
“The hope is that, according to the allocation cuts and long-range weather forecasts, that the dam will hold more water this time next year,” he said.
“We have farmers who have big commercial contracts with supermarkets who need to plan well in advance, so this was very short notice for them,” he said.
“Now the question is do they split their 40% allocation over 12 months, or do they use it up in July and August and hope for good rains during the traditionally high rainfall months of September/October.”
Water savings critical
The board said the current drought crisis has escalated the importance of saving water in the region.
On 16 June, the maintenance and repair shutdown of the main canal leading water from the Kouga Dam to the Loerie Dam began. This was scheduled to last 16 days.
The annual shutdown of the 69km canal, and, at staggered intervals, another 45km of branch canals, has become key to the irrigation board keeping its water losses low.
Over the past year, the board has reported water losses of just 7.5%, mainly from leaks and evaporation – down from 13% in 2008 when it received a national accolade for water savings.
GIB’s losses are also dramatically lower than cities such as the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, which reports annual losses of between 30 and 40%.
“We have a robust water management system,” said GIB CEO Pierre Joubert. “When a leak is reported, we aim to address it within the hour.”
Joubert said GIB wanted to reduce losses even further through the refurbishment and replacement of ailing infrastructure.
“Our infrastructure was laid in 1970, so it requires ongoing maintenance,” he said, adding that the irrigation board spent R 23 million annually on maintenance and operations.
Water allocation to urban users will be cut by 25 %, with the town of Hankey already on water rationing. The town only receives water for 10 hours per day at present.
This reduction in water supply will apply to all the towns in Kouga.