Kouga Dam water users restricted to just 20% of full water allocations for new water year

(PATENSIE) – STARTING July, the 132 water users in the Gamtoos Valley who rely wholly on the Kouga Dam for their citrus, cash-crop and dairy production will be able to draw just 20% of their full annual water quotas.

The restrictions follow a year of water users being able to draw 85% of their annual water allocations and come as the Kouga Dam level drops below 7%.

The allocations for the 2020/21 water year – announced by the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation – were made following “an analysis that indicates the level of restrictions to be considered when balancing water availability and water demand in the Algoa Water Supply System”, said Rienette Colesky, CEO of Gamtoos Irrigation Board which oversees water use from the Kouga Dam.

The cut in water allocations from the Kouga Dam comes after last year’s good news when farmers received an allocation allowing them to use 85% of their full annual water quota – and in so doing bringing them much relief and the capability to plant more vegetable crops, new young citrus trees, as well as the chance to create more employment.

Colesky had this to say about the new restrictions: “It is not good. With 20% of an agricultural water user’s full water allocation, a water user can just manage to keep their citrus crops alive. There will be minimal cash-crop planting and the dairy farming will have a very difficult year.”

Such a drastic cut in the water allocation will have both short-and long-term implications. An attempt will have to be made to try to save the highest income citrus trees, and dairy farmers – those who are able – will need to move their herds to areas that are not dependent on the agricultural water from the Kouga system.

A large proportion of employment in the valley is seasonal, and dependent on the size of the expected harvest. Colesky indicated that “for the coming season, job opportunities will drop as there will be less demand for permanent as well as for seasonal staff”.

“I am nervous,” said local citrus farmer, Khaya Katoo. “This is bad news. Last year, with the good allocation, we planted new trees, but this will force us to remove some and not to plant new seedlings.

“It takes about five years for citrus trees to yield, and it is important for us to try to keep what trees we can. We really need a mini flood to fill the dam and save us.”

On the subject of rain, dairy farmer Elbe Strydom was more resigned. “We know it runs in cycles, and we have had periods of good rain, but the dry periods in between seem to be getting longer. We have not had a good season for three years.”

For many of the local farmers it is an issue of re-evaluating what their options are. Strydom indicated: “We knew the allocations were going to be strict; that is understandable, but the Gamtoos Water Board is really well-managed.”

Strydom’s concern is for the people who have been working for him for 15 years and more.

“They don’t have the option to move elsewhere and buy a plot of land. I feel responsible for them.”

It’s been many years since the region enjoyed the kind of heavy rain that is needed to fill the dams, and although some “normal to above normal” rain has been predicted for the winter, the drought and the newly-imposed restrictions do mean that farmers in the area will need to be very careful until the next expected peak rainfall period in October/November.

Port Elizabeth Weather Office spokesman Garth Sampson said the conservation of water was something that has had to become a way of life throughout South Africa.