Sluice gates opened as Vaal Dam reaches maximum capacity

A fifth sluice gate of the Vaal Dam was opened on Tuesday as the dam’s levels reached 110% after heavy rains in the water catchment area. 

Localised flooding downstream is expected in the coming days. 

Rand Water said dam levels breached the 100% mark on 18 December and two sluice gates were opened 10 days later when the levels reached 107%. 

The department of water and sanitation warned farmers to move equipment away from the expected increased flows and to avoid crossing flooded low-lying bridges. 

The department’s Lower Vaal water strategy highlights the lack of preparedness for dam flooding in areas on the lower Vaal downstream and the need for a national flood management and a dam safety policy. 

The rise in water levels is also expected to flood parts of the Orange River system and affect tourism businesses downstream. 

After heavy rainfall in January last year, emergency services and the National Sea Rescue Institute’s (NSRI’s) Vaal Dam station evacuated a number people from homes affected by flooding in Vanderbijlpark.

On Monday, the NSRI said it had rescued a 42-year-old Johannesburg man who was kayaking on the Vaal River. It also assisted in rescuing birds and their eggs from trees next to the flooded river. This occurred after a fourth sluice gate was opened at the Vaal barrage. 

The organisation said the man was found in a tree, which he had climbed to escape the rapidly rising water and had remained there throughout the night.

“He was rescued from the tree and taken onboard the NSRI rescue craft and brought to the staging area where he was reunited with family, colleagues and friends,” said the organisation’s spokesperson, Craig Lambinon. “ER24 paramedics assisted with medical treatment for exhaustion and dehydration.”

The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said people who may be affected by the release of water from the dam are warned beforehand. 

“We have continuous engagements with a number of forums downstream and all along the affected rivers through which the messages are transmitted, including municipalities, industry and agriculture.” 

The department would continue to monitor the water levels over the coming days to determine when the sluice gates would be closed, Ratau added.

Tunicia Phillips is a climate and economic justice reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa

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Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Adamela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

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