The water crisis is not over for everyone

More rain today in Cape Town. To be honest, we could all do with some summer now, but any complaints are tempered by the still very fresh memories of the recent drought.

Our dams are now up to 84.5% full, an incredible recovery from the time of that visit to Theewaterskloof just 20 months ago. Amazingly, Theewaterskloof itself cracked the 75% milestone this week. With all this good news, it would be reasonable to think that we were all in the clear now. And Cape Town pretty much is: for the moment at least.

It’s a different story just up the road though. I drove out to Montagu this week, where there hasn’t been any significant rainfall in 4 years. Much of the local economy is reliant on farming, and farming is reliant on water.

There is no water.

It’s hardly rocket surgery to work out implications of this situation. If farms can’t farm, there’s no money to spend locally, there’s no money to employ workers. Thus GDP drops, unemployment rises, poverty rises and brings with it increased drug/alcohol use, and with that, increased crime and health problems.

I was lucky enough to visit the Poortjieskloof Dam on the (currently misnamed) Grootrivier. Poortjieskloof supplies several of the farms in the area and has a capacity of 9.4million m³. That’s about one third the size of the Steenbras Upper dam that you drive over at the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass. i.e. it’s big.

It’s also almost completely empty.

The water that you can see there is little more than a metre deep, well below even the bottom of three outlet points on the dam wall. When full, it should be 33m deep, but even the lowest of the depth markers (4m) on the bank is way above the water level. It’s a shocking sight, and a reminder that we live in an urban-orientated, insular news bubble. While we are celebrating our deliverance from the infamous Day Zero, this dam – literally just 100km from Theewaterskloof – is on its last legs, along with the local community which depends so heavily upon it.

While I do understand that the climate is changing, I’m also aware that that is what climates do, and the amount of hype in the media leaves me cold. I’ve seen enough good science being manipulated to sell papers and get website clicks to just willingly believe everything I read. However, that said, if one takes this as an example of the implications of prolonged drought and its effect on a small community, extrapolation to a city the size of Cape Town is frankly terrifying. Whether or not you think that there is any anthropogenic effect on the climate is almost immaterial. The fact is that we’re clearly unable to deal with any robust change in our environment.

However, it’s not all bad news in this particular case. While I was visiting one of the local farms, their 170m deep borehole was completed and yielded its first water, which will hopefully at least allow them to save their trees in preparation for next year’s crop. This year has been a write off. Add the cost of drilling and pumping from a borehole onto a season with literally no income and you can see the desperate state that things are in.

I’m looking forward to going back and seeing healthier farms, a healthier local economy and happier faces next year. As for Poortjieskloof – that will require literally years and years of above average rainfall to get back to any significant level. And that seems very unlikely to happen at this stage.

Too much?

I may have overdone it. We went to Montagu Springs in the morning – thoroughly recommended – did some dried fruit shopping (this was Montagu, after all) after that, and then dived in at a wine farm on the way home. But it was too hot to sleep last night. And because of that, following a busy day and followed by a busy day, I’m knackered.

The guest house was great, they had baboons in the front garden, but there was other good stuff about it too. The Springs were busy, but well run and a lot of fun. The wine farm was nearly closed, but they found time to give us a burger or five, some beer and some milkshakes (but actually no wine…) and the journey home was thankfully uneventful and surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

It’s been a really great weekend, but I’m completely broken.

Donkey

Today, with the temperature topping off at 41°C, we went to a donkey sanctuary.
Donkeys are desert animals and don’t mind the heat.

Then we went brandy tasting. Everyone was drawn to the air-con.

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The view from the guest house is superb, but my WordPress app is still playing up and so I can’t share it with you.

Sorry about that.

Even more miles from civilisation…

If all has gone well (and (at the time of writing this) I have no reason to assume that it won’t have done), I will be enjoying a long weekend break with my wonderful and long suffering wife in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary.

We’re leaving the kids and the beagle in safe hands and heading out to a private game reserve a few hours inland (obviously) from Cape Town. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and I have no idea what the connectivity will be like from there, although I’m reliably informed that “there is a wifi”.

Readers of 6000 miles… will be glad to know that posts on here will continue over the weekend and (depending on that connectivity) may be supplemented by further ‘tumblr mode’ offerings.

Have a great long weekend. I know I’m going to.