FARMERS on the Hardap Irrigation Scheme woke up to a dry canal and sprinklers that will no longer be able to wet their crops after the water level in the dam sank so low that none of it could be extracted for agricultural purposes any longer.
Although the farmers will no longer be able to irrigate their crops, residents of Mariental will still be able to consume water from the dam after it has been pumped from the dam and purified.
According to Dawie de Klerk, the chairman of the Hardap Farmer’s Union, said crop farmers face a potential catastrophe which could have disastrous consequences on the socio economic situation of the town.
“If it rains well in the catchment area of the Fish River and the river fills the dam farmers might be able to pull through. The lucerne currently in the fields will be able to last for about three weeks before the lack of irrigation will destroy the entire crop,” he said.
He said after that and if it rains well in the meantime it would take more than a year and half before farmers will be able to produce lucerne again.
“If production stops completely as a result of the drought farmers will have no choice but to lay off workers which means that roughly a thousand people will all of a sudden be without an income and in turn will place a an unbearable burden on the town’s economy,” he said.
De Klerk said that other types of farming will also be negatively affected by the lack of raw water from the dam. He referred to the dairy farmers and pig farmers that would now have to uses purified water to water their animals.
“This means a sharp rise in production costs which would also have an adverse effect on the financial situation of not only the Mariental community but consumers further afield.”
He said the problems started when the Ministry responsible for the Hardap Dam placed a moratorium on the Namwater to not allow the water level in the dam to pass above the 70 percent mark.
Besides the moratorium the release of 10 million cubic metres of water from the Hardap Dam to feed the Neckertal Dam almost 300 kilometres down river also placed a strain on the irrigation farmers that would have been able to extract water for at least a month and half more. The water that was lost by the frivolous decision to open the flood gates had a value of almost N$53 million which is now lost forever.
“We normally receive good rains between February and May each year and maybe this year enough rain would have fallen to refill the dam to the level of maybe 35 percent. This would have meant that the scheme farmers should have been able to continue production for at least the next year until the next rainy season.”
He said the release of the water from the dam cost the farmers the vital month they needed for the dam to refill.
“The Chief Executive Officer of Namwater made the final call on the extraction of water for the purposes of irrigation early on Monday morning. The only hope we have left now is that enough rain will fall to sustain us as farmers,” De Klerk said.
NamWater’s manager of hydrology, Andre Mostert, confirmed that the dam’s water level is down to only 6.1 percent and that the simultaneous extraction of irrigation water and demand from the town’s purification plant is no longer possible.
Mostert said that the pumps feeding the purification plant are tripping because of the poor water flow from the dam.
“This means that only water for human and animal consumption will be allowed to be extracted from the dam until such time as the water level are sufficiently replenished by good rainfall:” Mostert said.
Never since the construction of the Hardap Dam was completed in 1962 has it been this empty.