Winter Downpours Help Ease Risk of Cape Town Running Dry

(Bloomberg) -- Fears that Cape Town, South Africa’s second-biggest city and most popular tourist attraction, would run out of water have abated as good winter rains help top up dam levels and ease the worst drought on record.

The six main dams supplying the city are at 38.1 percent of capacity, compared with 31.8 percent a week earlier and just 23 percent a year ago, the city said on its website on Monday. Cape Town’s 4 million residents are using 520 million liters (137 million gallons) a day, above the target of 450 million liters.

City authorities warned earlier this year that they may be forced to switch off the taps and residents would have to collect a daily ration of 25 liters of water from distribution points unless the three-year drought broke and consumption was curtailed.

While water cuts are no longer on the table, the authorities say three years of above-average rainfall are needed to adequately replenish the dams and have maintained strict curbs on usage, including bans on using potable water to irrigate gardens and wash cars. At this point in 2014, the dams were 93 percent full.

“The city of Cape Town urges all of its residents to keep on saving even if it is raining,” Deputy Mayor Ian Nielson said in an emailed statement. “It is too soon to know what supply level is needed in order to safely navigate the summer of 2019. It is therefore critical that we continue to keep our consumption low.”

Job Losses

The rain and cooler temperatures are good for the wine grape and citrus crops and have been a boon for farmers in the Western Cape province, who have been hard hit by the drought, according to Carl Opperman, the chief executive officer of Agri Western Cape, a farmers’ group. Before to the drought, the industry employed about 800,000 people in the region.

“Our biggest challenge now is to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the drought, especially the 70,000 to 80,000 jobs that were lost due to the fall in production,” Opperman said by phone from Cape Town, the provincial capital.

Alan Winde, the provincial minister of economic opportunities, said there had been fewer job losses than anticipated this year, as farmers found alternative work for their employees and adapted to having less water by investing in new technology and changing and diversifying their crops.

“Some areas of the province and certain crops also performed better than expected, and millions of rand in government drought aid was distributed to ensure that livestock farmers were able to remain on their farms and continue farming,” he said in an emailed response to questions.

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