Rising dam levels in Cape Town to keep tourism and agriculture afloat

Water consumption in the city came in at 568 million litres per day between August 19 and 25. Image: iStock

Water consumption in the city came in at 568 million litres per day between August 19 and 25. Image: iStock

Agriculture, tourism and property sectors were hit particularly badly by the region’s worst drought in 100 years, and government and the tourism sector now need to get the message out.

With Cape Town dam levels hitting a new high of 81.7% and average Western Cape dam levels set to top the psychological 65% mark, the agriculture and tourism sectors in the province are eyeing better prospects in coming months.

Both city and provincial dam levels reached a four-year high in August, following the region’s worst drought in 100 years, which hit the agriculture, tourism and property sectors particularly badly.

The City of Cape Town’s latest Dam levels report shows that the Western Cape Water Supply System, comprising the region’s six largest dams, on Monday recorded another week of improvement, up 1.2% to 81.7%. This time last year, average dam levels in the system were at 59.6% while in 2017 they were at just 32.3%.

Two dams in the system, the Berg River and Steenbras Lower dams, are more than 100% full while Theewaterskloof, the city’s largest dam, surpassed the 70% mark last week. The national Department of Water and Sanitation said last week that average dam levels in the Western Cape were at 64.55%, a 12% increase on last year.

Higher yields expected for crops

Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber, tells Moneyweb that with the Western Cape receiving good rainfall in the past few weeks, wheat, barley and canola crops can expect higher yields. However, he is taking a “wait and see” approach with regards to the horticultural side, which includes table grape and wine grape production.

“While the recent rains have benefitted horticulture in the province, it is still too early to say what the positive impact will be. We need the good rains to continue into August and September to increase soil moisture content and to really boost horticulture.”

Sihlobo says the Western Cape is an important player, accounting for about 20% of SA’s agriculture economy. “Continued good rains and a turnaround in the province will lift the country’s agriculture sector as a whole,” he says.

“The bottom line is that the Western Cape is in a far better water position than it was in 2017 and 2018. This will benefit not just the agriculture sector and jobs, but the broader economy.”

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, says Cape Town’s much-improved dam levels are “good news” for tourism. “Thankfully the drought situation was relatively short-lived, and we never reached ‘Day Zero’ in the city.

Communication pivotal

“However, there are lessons to be learnt in terms of how we communicate such situations in order not to shoot ourselves in the foot and scare off tourists. The way [the drought] was communicated is still having a lingering impact on tourism.”

Tshivhengwa says the tourism industry and government need to work together to now get the message across that there are no longer major water issues in Cape Town.

“We hope the good rains continue in the broader Western Cape, but the fact that dam levels are over 80% in Cape Town is a positive. It is expected to not only benefit the city as SA’s leading international tourist destination, but the country too as Cape Town is seen as the hook for many international tourists coming to the country,” he adds.

Responding to queries from Moneyweb, Cornelis van der Waal, chief research officer at Wesgro – the Western Cape’s trade and tourism promotion agency – says its research shows that the drought is “a lingering concern” for potential international visitors.

“It is therefore incredibly important that we get messaging out that the water situation has improved significantly, with Cape Town dams exceeding 80%,” he says.

“This is a positive story that showcases our destination’s resilience, and will only help to increase bookings.

“Visitors should come and visit our beautiful city and province.”

Van der Waal adds that the Cape’s tourism industry had a tough start to the year with a decline of about 3% in the first quarter of 2019. “However, all indications are that the second quarter saw a growth of around 5% and, based on our projections, the industry is expected to grow at about 2-5% until the end of the year.”

“It is also worth noting that in 2018, international tourist numbers stayed more or less flat at 1.7 million despite the drought. The overall decline has largely been because domestic tourism is down and that is primarily because of the weaker economy,” he adds.

On the agricultural side, he says the good rainfall in the current season will help farmers during the drier summer months. However, he notes that there are areas in the province where much more rain is still required.

Brought to you by Moneyweb

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