Water levels at dams across the province continue to drop. Pictured here is the Voëlvlei Dam. Picture: Bruce Sutherland

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on Monday officially declared the Western Cape a disaster area in response to the current drought crisis — the worst in more than a century.

“The disaster declaration will accelerate the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre’s Project ‘Avoiding Day Zero’, the Province’s strategy to ensure that taps do not run dry,” Zille said in a statement.

There are fears even if the winter rainfall arrives in the Western Cape, it will not yield enough water to relieve the water crisis in the province.

Dam levels are at a worrying low of 21.6%, with only 11.6% usable.

As these levels continue to drop, and the rain remains absent, various spheres of government are putting their heads together to make contingency plans, in case the day comes when the province's dams dry up completely.

At the Western Cape Water Indaba held at Goudini Spa last week, Minster for Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said the situation was dire.

“We are committed to accelerating the Berg River-Voëlvlei augmentation scheme to allow us to divert surplus winter water into the Voëlvlei Dam, the Table Mountain Group Aquifer, the promotion of water re-use technologies, rain water harvesting and, importantly, drawing on our experiences in commissioning the Richards Bay desalination plant to consider possible similar solutions for the Western Cape.”

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, told Weekend Argus they had plans in place to ensure residents would still have water, even if the winter rains were not sufficient to refill the dams.

The priority was to ensure it would be possible to extract most of the last remaining water in the dams.

“During the last couple of weeks, we sent our divers in to clear the dam floors, so that we can extract the last 10% of water.

"We removed the sediment and potential vegetation that clogs the dams.”

There were also a number of emergency-supply schemes in place.

They had started working on the Table Mountain aquifer project, which would include drilling into the aquifers to extract water.

Limberg said they had completed the tender process for this project and were doing the preparation work.

They were hoping work on it would start officially this month.

“We will be able to provide yield by the end of July,” she said.

There was also a plan to extend water re-use projects at the Zandvliet Waste Water Plant. Hopefully, this would start later this year.

Limberg said, the city used about 8% of waste water for irrigation.

The city’s treated water was of a good quality and only needed one more step of purification to be good enough for drinking. Extensive testing would be done to ensure it met the standards for drinking, she said.

Among the plans the city had in place was bringing in water tankers from outside the region to supply local municipalities.

Level 4 water restrictions will come into effect as of June1. The associated tariff increase will be effective from July 1.