Avoiding the day the taps run dry…

An aerial picture of Theewaterskloof dam taken earlier this month.

Premier Helen Zille has officially declared the Western Cape a disaster area in response to the current drought crisis – the worst since 1904.

“The disaster declaration will accelerate the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre’s Project ‘Avoiding Day Zero’, the province’s strategy to ensure that taps do not run dry,” said Ms Zille.

The declaration will be formally gazetted during the course of this week, and was signed by the premier during a provincial legislature meeting last week.

As it stands, the disaster will be classified for a three-month period which can be extended, if the need arises.

During such a classification, the Disaster Management Act empowers the provincial government to protect key frontline service delivery points by reprioritising funding.

Project “Avoiding Day Zero”, led by the Western Cape’s Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PDMC), has three focus areas:

Demand management – managing the current water supply from the respective sources;

Winter conservation – ensuring that water resources are properly managed, despite a rise in dam levels during the rainy season. This avoids a disaster during the dry months; and

Groundwater management – ensuring the proper management of groundwater sources like boreholes or the Table Mountain aquifer.

Government will prioritise interventions based on the provincial Drought Risk Register. Provincial Disaster Management will focus
on the most critical aspects of that list.

Funding will be reprioritised provincially and, should further assistance be needed, the province will approach National Treasury and the * ational Department of Water and Sanitation.

According to Provincial Disaster Management, the most immediate interventions, in the coming days will be:

The drilling of boreholes at hospitals, starting in the metro, to be followed by schools in high-risk water scarce areas.

Expediting the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for testing a mobile desalination plant using existing water inlet flows used for the reactors at the Koeberg site;

Drilling into the Table Mountain aquifer;

Appointing groundwater specialists in each district. The specialists will identify main ground water sources and coordinate the exploration and management of these resources going forward.

Assessing state of water restrictions in the respective municipalities – while local councils remain responsible for making area-specific decisions, the disaster declaration enables the province to issue instructions for any changes to these restrictions that may be necessary in each locality.

During the current declaration period, a provincial inter-ministerial committee, chaired by Anton Bredell, the MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, will meet regularly to assess immediate threats and recommend interventions.

The premier’s office assured the public that the declaration is no cause to panic. A disaster declaration enhances control by affording the province additional powers of intervention.

Residents are urged to continue with the current water-saving measures and to adhere to restrictions imposed in their respective municipalities.