DROUGHT-hit farmers in the Gamtoos River Valley have had their already stringent water allocations from the Kouga Dam – the largest in the region – halved for the 2018/19 water year, it was announced late on Thursday.
With Kouga Dam at only 7.7% capacity on Friday, this means that farmers will now be forced to operate on 20% of what would be their full irrigation quota for the new water year, which starts in July.
This is set to have a significant impact on fruit and vegetable production in the valley, as farmers will not be planting “cash crops” and will be forced to leave older, less productive citrus orchards to die off. The little water they have will be dedicated to the preservation of younger, premium orchards, according to valley farmer and Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) chairman Tertius Meyer.
This follows Thursday’s annual meeting between officials from the national and provincial departments of water and sanitation, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and GIB, which manages the dam.
Meyer said the greater part of Kouga Dam’s water supply was given to sustaining agriculture in the valley, with the remainder forming a critical part of Nelson Mandela Bay’s water supply.
There had been mixed reaction to the news from local farmers, whose allocation for the current water year had already been restricted to 40% of their normal consumption, Meyer said. Many, he said, had in fact been expecting more drastic measures to be introduced.
GIB financial and human resources manager Rienette Colesky said the department had done its best to balance the needs of farmers with creating a sustainable supply to the surrounding towns and cities.
“Curtailing water use is vital to prevent dam failure at this stage,” she said.
Unlike many dams, Kouga is built in such a way that the outlet is low enough to prevent “dead storage” and can be used up to the 0% level, Colesky said.
The last time the dam was at full capacity and overflowing was in December 2015.