The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) said water use from the Vaal River system was currently equal to the system’s available resources, adding that any further increases would render the system vulnerable to drought. “Continuous higher than average rainfall is needed in the next few critical years to prevent restrictions when the dams’ levels are low,” the DWA said in a statement.
Seef Rademeyer, chief engineer at national resource planning at the DWA, explained that there were three levels of restrictions that were implemented if water levels in the Vaal were too low. “Eskom and urban drinking water is on the highest level of restriction, which means that they’ll be restricted last. Farmers are on the lowest level.” But he said that should restrictions be imposed, farmers would lose a percentage of their allocated water.
He noted that the last few years had brought above-average rainfall and that water restrictions had last been imposed in 1995. “However, no more water licences are being issued for the system, so any expansion by farmers has come to a halt,” Rademeyer said. Nicol Jansen, vice-president of Agri Northern Cape, said the river constituted a massive irrigation system, so if water became limited, implications would be huge.
“The Hartswater district, for example, depends on water from the river. Restricted access will not only affect local food supply but will also hamper our exports, resulting in a loss of revenue for the country.” Jansen said farmers were increasingly worried about the quality of water, which was becoming a greater concern than quantity. “Heavy metals are routinely found in samples and if it lands up in our citrus orchards, we could lose our export permits. Sewage is also present.”
Meanwhile, the DWA is making strides in the fight against illegal water use. To date, they have prevented the extraction of 51 million cubic metres of water a year through its reconciliation strategy. It was aimed at eliminating 175 million cubic metres a year of unlawful water use by 2014. Rademeyer said farmers were the biggest culprits of water theft. But Jansen said while Agri SA condemned theft, many farmers had paid for licences that they had not received. “On the books, it looks as if the farmers are using more than they are supposed to, but in fact that water has been paid for.”