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Drought-stricken farmers in the Gamtoos River Valley have had their already stringent water allocations from the Kouga Dam halved for the 2018/19 water year.

With the Kouga Dam at only 7.7% capacity as of Friday, farmers will now be forced to operate on 20% of what would be their full irrigation quota for the new water year, which starts in July.

The announcement came on Thursday following an annual meeting between officials from the national and provincial departments of water and sanitation, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and GIB, which manages the dam.

Preserving younger crops

According to Tertius Meyer, valley farmer and chairman of the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) chairman the decision is set to have a significant impact on fruit and vegetable production in the valley, as farmers will not be planting “cash crops” and will be forced to leave older, less productive citrus orchards to die off.

“The little water they have will be dedicated to the preservation of younger, premium orchards,” he explained.

Meyer noted that there has been a mixed reaction to the news from local farmers, whose allocation for the current water year had already been restricted to 40% of their normal consumption. Many, he said, had in fact been expecting more drastic measures to be introduced.

Preventing dam failure

GIB financial and human resources manager Rienette Colesky said the department had done its best to balance the needs of farmers with creating a sustainable supply to the surrounding towns and cities.

“Curtailing water use is vital to prevent dam failure at this stage,” she said.

Unlike many dams, Kouga is built in such a way that the outlet is low enough to prevent “dead storage” and can be used up to the 0% level, Colesky said.

The last time the dam was at full capacity and overflowing was in December 2015.

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