If it’s not drought, it’s floods

You had to feel a little sorry for the average South African household over the past few months not knowing whether they had too much water or too little

It started with unseasonably early rains in the Highveld in September, followed by a scorching October. In Johannesburg and Tshwane, it was so hot that water was running out of suburban reservoirs faster than Rand Water could pump it in, as everyone with a garden tried to keep it alive.

Meanwhile, in the Western Cape, after a dry winter which left dams with 20% less water than normal, October was cold and (relatively) rainy. But residents were told that water supplies might still be restricted before the end of the year.

Up north, the national Department of Water and Sanitation announced that there was no reason to panic because the dams were reasonably full. But immediately, Rand Water told residents that they were consuming water faster than Rand could treat and pump it. That was why the reservoirs levels were so low. Across Gauteng, people were lefty scratching their heads about the difference between a dam and a reservoir.

Of course, none of this was unexpected. For once, the South African Weather Service had got it right. Their long range weather forecast had warned that there was a good chance of a hot, dry summer, because of an El Nino event. For those of you who don’t follow these things, an El Nino is what happens when warm water wells up on the coast of Peru, on the east side of the Pacific, about as far away around the world as you can get. This warms up the air, changes the wind patterns and moves rainfall to different places – Southern Africa gets drier, while heavy rains in East Africa cause floods.

Read the full feature in Plumbing Africa January 2016, page 27.

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