January 16, 2006

Rains bring relief to South African dams

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Rains last week have swelled dams
over much of South Africa's grain triangle but water
restrictions remain in place in some areas, a senior official
with the water affairs department said on Monday.

"If you look at the spread of the rain in the first 10 days
of the year it has been marvelous. We had double the average
amount of rainfall in general over the country over that
period," said Amelius Muller, the chief director for regions at
the department of water affairs and forestry.

"We do expect that for last week, when all of the data is
in, that nationally dam levels will have risen by 3 to 3.5
percent," he told Reuters.

Data from last week should be finalized by Wednesday.

But the distribution has been very uneven.

Muller said the Bloemhof dam in the far western part of the
maize growing region was below 9 percent just a few days ago
but on Monday morning its level had reached 24 percent.

"The Bloemhof dam is still rising and we expect it to reach
28 percent soon, which is good news as it is mostly used for
agriculture," Muller said.

"The Erfenis and Allemanskraal dams in the Free State don't
seem to have responded very well to the rains. Farmers who use
those dams still have zero quotas or 100 percent water
restrictions on them," Muller added.

"The Allemanskraal dam only reached 9 percent as of last
Thursday...If they do respond favorably we will reconsider the
restrictions there. But from a farmer's perspective it may be
late in the day."

The growing season for the key maize crop has started
fairly dry.

A Reuters survey early in January based on data from the
South African Weather Service showed rainfall from October to
December had been below average in 17 out of 18 of the
country's maize growing areas.

As of late last week, Muller said 55 of the 146 dams
monitored by his department were still at levels below 50
percent and more than 30 of those dams had less than 30 percent
of their water left.

Good rains have also been reported in drought-stricken
Zimbabwe as well as in Zambia and Malawi, raising hopes that
this year's harvest in those countries will be better than the
disastrous one of 2005, which has left close to 12 million
people in the region in need of food aid.