Johannesburg Tightens Water Controls as Record Drought Persists

  • No sprinklers in gardens; extra charges for high consumption
  • Vaal Dam is just 34% full compared with 65% last year

South Africa’s biggest city tightened water restrictions as high spring temperatures and dry weather meant dam levels continued to drop, adding to the effect of record-low rainfall in 2015.

Johannesburg must cut water consumption by 15 percent or face forced cuts, the city said in a statement Monday. In addition to restrictions imposed in November, consumers may not use sprinklers in their gardens and will be charged extra for high usage.

“If these measures are not effective in reducing demand by 15 percent then the Johannesburg water system will face the risk of outages,” the city said. “We request residents to take this seriously.”

South Africa’s rainfall in 2015 was the lowest since records began in 1904, causing widespread damage to crops and livestock, with rural communities particularly affected. The Vaal Dam, which supplies Johannesburg and Pretoria, was 34 percent full as of Aug. 22, compared with 65 percent at the same time last year, according to data from the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Ease Pressure

The 15 percent reduction in usage in Johannesburg will help to ease pressure on water levels in the Integrated Vaal River System, which have dropped below the 60 percent threshold, the city said.

While rain normally returns in spring in central and eastern South Africa after a dry four-month winter period, continued high temperatures may threaten the water system’s recovery, Asmerom Beraki, the South African Weather Service’s lead scientist for long-range forecasts, said Aug. 29.

A strong La Nina weather pattern, which typically brings higher rainfall to southern Africa, is highly unlikely, he said.

“We may well be in for a dry early spring, but there are prospects for good rains from late November, early December,” the city said. “Should this happen and the Vaal system is able to recover, then these restrictions will be lifted.”

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