22/01/2018 11:41 SAST | Updated 22/01/2018 11:45 SAST

National Government Prepares To Extract Final 10 Percent Of Western Cape Water

The department of water and sanitation has woken up to the reality of "Day Zero", and now plans to wring the last drops of water out of Western Cape dams.

RODGER BOSCH via Getty Images
A picture taken on May 10, 2017 shows bare sand and dried tree trunks at Theewaterskloof Dam, which has less than 20 percent of its water capacity, near Villiersdorp, about 108km from Cape Town.

As "Day Zero" looms in drought-stricken Western Cape, the department of water and sanitation has now said that it is preparing to extract the last 10 percent from the two remaining sources of water in the region.

Trevor Balz, who is responsible for the department's drought-intervention programme, took to Twitter on Sunday night to announce the drastic measures, saying, "We are preparing ourselves to be able to extract the last 10 percent from the Voëlvlei and Theewaterskloof [dams], and our construction teams will be working in those dams from the end of January onwards, so [that] we can extract all the water from what is commonly called 'dead storage'."

The extraction is well-timed, says Dr Kevin Winter – an academic and lecturer linked to the Future Water Research Institute at the University of Cape Town.

"It makes sense to squeeze out as much as possible," he says.

"As I understand it, the extraction head where water comes down is delinked [from] where the water is lying, so what they do is create channels so the water flows toward the extraction points, meaning you get a lot more than you would've got out of the 10 percent remaining in the dams."

In the department's announcement on Sunday night, Trevor Balzer also said that the department would be monitoring groundwater usage in Western Cape, which is being used in large quantities by the agricultural sector.

"The department's monitor of groundwater is music to my ears, and it is a crucial that we attempt to monitor the groundwater usage of farmers," says Winter. "What I really want now, is to see more dedicated boreholes and aquifers for the systems."

Day Zero is expected some 90 days from now, when taps will be turned off, but Winter is positive that the situation will change.

"The water situation is so uncertain at the moment. Yes, it's not looking good at all, but a lot can happen in 90 days. There is already so much being done, and from experts that are not only local, but national and international. Personally, I can't see a city of this size running out of water."