It’s not quite 3½ years since I took these photos at Theewaterskloof Dam – or what should have been Theewaterskloof Dam, at least.
Back then, we were on the verge of Day Zero, about the be the first big city in the world to run out of water.
Today, Theewaterskloof Dam level stands at 101.1% full. That’s more full than it actually can be. How cool is that?
On the water front, at least, things are looking pretty good:
We don’t need to worry too much about the Steenbras twins, but it would be nice to see Voëlvlei join the vol vlei party (see what I did there?). Probably not, if you’re outside SA, and you’re probably better off for that.
Photos from our few days away are still being processed. There are almost 1000 of them. It may take a while.
I’ve had a busy day, and I’ve got no plans to do anything but chill out this evening.
Have a quota photo of a dead tree (I knew you’d be impressed):
This was taken at Theewaterskloof last week. I liked the juxtaposition of the two bright colours at the top and bottom, the mute stripe in the middle and that angular tree pushing through all three layers.
There was one Agama – and several more – at the spot where we chose to sit for a quick coffee at the water’s edge behind the overflow. This is the Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra) and this is a male. You can tell that because of his bright blue head, which is apparently overwhelmingly attractive if you are a female Southern Rock Agama.
They are (aside from the ridiculous head thing) amazingly well camouflaged and also astoundingly nimble over the rocks.
We also saw a couple of Cape Girdled Lizards, which are easier to pluralise, but harder to photograph. Fortunately, I already have a photograph of one of those from another place and time.
Today, we went back to Theewaterskloof Dam. And wow. What a difference a day 980 days makes.
Compare this from February 2018…
…with this from this morning:
Quite chuffed how close I managed to get those two images, given that it has been 2½ years and given that the place (thankfully) looks completely different.
Cape Town will always be threatened with water shortages, given the twin issues of rapid population growth and global climate change, but this is about as good as things could be and it was a truly heartening sight.
And yes, everyone knows that the dams are back up to 100% – I didn’t need to personally go out there and take this image to prove it. But we need these little wins right now, and this comparison very much fits that agenda.
I couldn’t get the drone up – the wind was blowing like a overenthusiastic lady on Kenilworth Main Road – but there will be more photos to follow.
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.