The small town of Riviersonderend got the lion’s share of the recent rains where 275mm fell on one farm in just under nine hours – flooding fields, destroying fencing, pumps and killing 75 sheep.
The floodwaters swept through the farmhouse and the family had to evacuate.
Wesseljan van Deventer, whose farm Blydskap is about 2km from the N2 outside Riviersonderend, said the farm had 351mm between Friday last week to Tuesday morning.
“From about 04:00 on Monday to 12.30, we got 275mm. We lost 75 sheep, mainly young animals, that got trapped in the corners of the camps and they trampled each other under the water,” Van Deventer said.
“The house is full of water, we can’t stay there. It came from the lands right through. Our water supply is gone, the pumps and the pipes, and fencing. You can’t walk through the lands. There has also been a lot of soil damage, soil loss. But that’s the game in farming. I would rather have floods than drought. We’ll survive this.”
The flooding closed the N2 near Riviersonderend on Monday.
While some have called this “early winter rain”, Henning Grobler of the SA Weather Service said it was a cut-off low pressure system that caused the widespread rain.
“It’s definitely not early winter rain, and it’s not summer rain either. Cut-off low systems are not uncommon, and generally give a fair amount of rain. They often result in heavy downpours in just a few hours,” Grobler said.
The weather service describes a cut-off low as part of a low pressure system that becomes cut off from the main circulation. It loses momentum and can “just sit for days” before dissipating. They bring a range of weather types, including torrential rain, and are one of the main drivers of flood damage.
Although the rain was widespread, from the West Coast across the southern part of the Western Cape to the Tsitsitsikama and Little Karoo, the rainfall was patchy, and none as high as that of the Riviersonderend area.
The SA Weather Service said rainfall measured on Monday was 145mm in Riviersonderend, 37mm in Swellendam, 48mm in Riversdale, 22mm in Ladismith, 25mm in both Robertson and Worcester, 32mm in Porterville, 21mm in Laingsburg, 25mm in both Struisbaai and Mossel Bay, and 32mm in Kirstenbosch. Only 3.8mm was measured in Oudtshoorn, although some farmers in the area had between 20 and 30mm.
Piet Kleyn, CEO of the Ostrich Business Chamber, said the rains had been welcome, but were so patchy and so low, they had done nothing to break the region’s drought.
“You can say the situation is almost the same. There were a few good thundershowers here and there, but what we need to break this drought is sustained rainfall.”
Ostrich farmers have lost an estimated R1bn and have had to lay off 15% to 16% of their workforce as the drought enters its fourth year. The size of the flock has declined by 20% since last season.
Johan Uys from the Oudtshoorn Municipality said the bit of rain had nevertheless raised the level of the town’s Raubenheimer supply dam from 35.5% to 37%.
“We’ve got water for another seven months.”
The region is to get additional water from Blossoms Water Project, a 22km pipeline from boreholes in the Blossoms region, but the earliest this could yield a supply would be in November.
Heinrich Robertson from the West Coast District Municipality said while the region had received some rain over the last two days, it was not enough to break the drought.
“We are still under water restrictions.”
The Voëlvlei Dam is 63% full and the Clanwilliam Dam 30.3% full. These fell to 15% and 7% last year.
In the Overberg region south of the N2, rain was patchy, with 42mm measured in Bredasdorp, while farmers reported figures that ranged from 5mm to 30mm.
Beaufort West’s municipal manager Kosie Haarhoff said they recorded 14mm over the weekend.
“It’s better than nothing and will help replenish the underground water that feeds the boreholes, but it is not going to break the drought.”
The town’s supply dam is 10% full and 18 of the 40 boreholes on which Beaufort West depends for its main water supply, have dried up.
The average level in Cape Town’s supply dams on Tuesday was 52.6%, up from 52.2% on Monday. The level is likely to increase over the next few days with the run-off from the mountains in the catchment area.
Capetonians are still within the 650 million litres a day target and last week used 605 million litres.