Original Research

Water shortages in Beaufort West: Lessons learnt and applied during the 2009–2011 and 2017–2019 droughts

Wessel P. Visser
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 18, No 1 | a1118 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v18i1.1118 | © 2022 Wessel P. Visser | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 July 2021 | Published: 28 February 2022

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Wessel P. Visser, Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


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Abstract

Increasing and prolonged droughts have become a feature of the South African environmental landscape. This article investigates the sustainability of water procurement to the town of Beaufort West and the reasons for the town’s water provision crises during the droughts of 2009–2011 and 2017–2019. Emergency measures were implemented to alleviate the serious water shortages during these droughts. Data to illustrate population increases and precipitation decreases, which impacted on the town’s water resources, were collected from census records of Statistics South Africa and the Department of Water and Sanitation, respectively. A number of risk factors contributed to the town’s water crises, for example, unsustainable water extraction at times of serious droughts, poor water monitoring, metering and attention to leakages, an expansion of informal settlements within the municipal boundaries of Beaufort West, as well as annual rainfall patterns that became increasingly unpredictable. The article concludes that water resource development had not kept pace with demand; therefore water infrastructure should be built with enough capacity to cope with regular dry periods. Equilibrium should be reached between the water expectations of the community and the water availability to avoid future social instability in water-stressed towns such as Beaufort West. Rainfall data indicate that precipitation patterns in the arid regions of South Africa are decreasing; therefore the water shortage experience of Beaufort West during the recent droughts serves as a clear and present warning that rural towns in these regions should seek and implement alternative water augmentation strategies timeously.

Keywords

Beaufort West; drought; Gamka Dam; groundwater; water load shedding; reclamation plant; unsustainable water extraction

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