Crisis looms as central dams reach low levels

‘Every drop counts’
Water authorities have issued an urgent appeal to the public to conserve water as dam levels have reached critically low levels in the central area of Namibia.
Francoise Steynberg
An urgent appeal has been issued warning the public that dams in the central area of Namibia will not contain sufficient water to ensure water supply until the next rainy season, with a combined water level of only 18% currently.

"Every drop counts," NamWater chief executive officer Abraham Nehemia emphasised last week during a meeting with the media.

The Omataka Dam is nearly empty at 0.2%, while Swakoppoort is at 35.5% capacity.

The water level at Von Bach Dam outside Okahandja stands at only 11.3%, so low that it cannot reach the sluices at the dam wall. An island has emerged in the middle of the empty dam. A strong smell of soil and rot permeates the area as fish die from lack of water, which is being mitigated by filtration systems at the Von Bach water treatment plant.

Alarm bells

NamWater, the City of Windhoek and the agriculture and water ministry hosted a media tour of the Von Bach Dam last Wednesday to highlight the critical water situation in the central area of the country. The challenges of water shortages in an arid Namibia, as well as short-, medium- and long-term plans, were also discussed.

Sebastian Husselmann, the chief water engineer of the Windhoek municipality, issued a stern warning to consumers that if water is not conserved, there will not be enough water until the next rainy season.

He confirmed that stakeholders will meet this week to discuss the alarmingly low water levels and water supply for the next 12 months. Husselmann said due to the poor rainy season, the City of Windhoek has had to implement water restrictions and urgent water conservation is necessary.

"We will have to push consumers for stricter water conservation. There may be a move towards stricter category E water restrictions,” he said.

Currently, water restrictions in the Windhoek municipality are classified as Category C.

The biggest water wasters include state enterprises, schools, hostels and car wash enterprises.

Planning for water security

Regarding long-term projects for a dry country like Namibia, acting chief of engineering services at NamWater, Saltiel Shaanika, said a desalination plant would be too expensive at N$5 billion, especially considering Windhoek's higher elevation above sea level.

A pipeline from the southern dams is also not sustainable, especially with the low level of the Hardap Dam.

Nehemia acknowledged the unaffordability of desalination and added that a pensioner in Havana cannot afford high water tariffs.

Working on solutions

Shaanika confirmed that the only solution is the Okavango pipeline. "The cabinet ordered in February that construction of the pipeline from the Okavango River should proceed, and groundwork has already begun," he said. Nehemia emphasised that the Okavango pipeline project, at a cost of N$7 billion over five to seven years, can no longer be postponed. He stated that it is the only option for the medium and long term.

Short- and medium-term projects under consideration, according to Shaanika, include the Von Bach pipeline of 10 km from the Omataka Dam to Von Bach at an estimated cost of N$150 million and water from the Kombat mine at N$40 million.

"Groundwater from boreholes at Berg Aukas is being investigated, as well as boreholes for Windhoek." There is also an investigation into the Abenab aquifer north of Grootfontein, "but it's a large farming area." In Windhoek, a second reclamation plant is being planned, which may be completed by 2029.

- [email protected]

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Namibian Sun 2024-07-17

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