Emergency water rations of 10 litres a day are being distributed to residents in high-lying areas of Beaufort West as the country’s oldest municipality struggles with three rounds of “water shedding” a day during a drought.
“I wish you could see, there are so many clouds, but no rain,” said municipal spokesperson Marlene Hendricks.
“The Gamka Dam is standing on zero. We have 40 boreholes, but now we have 22.”
Hendricks said even ground water sources were drying up fast.
To conserve water, there are three rounds of water shedding in the day every time the busy Karoo town’s three reservoirs hit 18% or below – which is often.
The first is 09:00 to noon, the second is between 14:00 and 16:00 and the last is between 19:00 and 06:00 the next day.
She said a typical family of four rushes home to have a quick shower between 14:00 to 16:00 and then rushes home again quickly to cook and wash before the 19:00 overnight cut off.
People who can afford it are buying extra water and filling water tanks, but people who have no money are struggling.
“It’s really our poor people out there who cannot afford a R20 at Checkers or Shoprite for water.”
She said disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers has been the town’s “lifeline”, delivering truckloads of water.
The Western Cape government was also bringing water and a radio station also started a fundraiser to raise R2m to sink another borehole.
“It is so heartsore,” she said.
The municipality was prioritising water for the elderly and the ill, delivering two 5-litre bottles to people who need it. Businesses were also getting supplies so that the drought would not cause an economic catastrophe.
She said if anybody was driving through Beaufort West and wanted to deliver water, they could drop it at the municipal offices in the town’s centre, or call or message her on 060 708 4671 to arrange collection.
James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for Western Cape Local Government Minister Anton Bredell, said the Karoo region was suffering from a crippling drought and had not relied on surface water, such as dams, for a number of years.
Instead, Beaufort West has used underground water for the past few years and reservoirs and a water reclamation plant, which the province was instrumental in constructing in 2011.
He said the reservoirs are replenished with boreholes which supply the town and this required careful water management.
If demand outstrips supply, the reservoirs do not fill up again so water shedding is introduced.
The department will also be spending R78.2m on drought-alleviation projects in the current financial year to end March.
This is for drilling and servicing boreholes, servicing the reclamation plant, providing emergency bottled water and employing engineers and geohydrologists to the town permanently.
The provincial Department of Agriculture was spending R8m per month on fodder relief to farmers in the region and other organisations helped with the supply of water tanks to schools and hospitals.
He pointed out that the province did not have the mandate for water provision, nor did it have a budget for it. The national Department of Water and Sanitation is in charge of this.