Right now television news broadcasts and newspapers are full of floods “of Biblical proportions” in Queensland in Australia. The State Premier is quoted as saying that the people of Brisbane face the prospect of having to rebuild on a scale similar to post-war reconstruction. There are horrific mudslides in Brazil, while flooding in Colombia is being likened to a “silent Katrina” because the death toll climbs daily – and has been for the past month, currently sitting around 350. In Sri Lanka 200 000 people have been displaced by rising waters and the Phillipines is awash with monsoon rains.
Closer to home, there has been flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and some areas of Gauteng. Folks in the Northern Cape have been warned of potential flooding on the banks of the Orange/Gariep river. The latest news reports have warned that the river’s level will rise to around 8m above normal.
The greater Upington area is no stranger to floods having had epic inundations at least once every decade. These floods are often linked to heavy rainfall upcountry – and the preventive water release measures taken by dams such as the Gariep once capacity is reached.
Orange River Wine Cellars MD Herman Cruywagen said the 2011 situation wasn’t as bad as that of 1988 when massive damage to vineyards and property resulted. “The water appears to have stabilised at around 7.5m above its normal level and it looks as if it’ll stay that way for a while.”
With farmers supplying grapes to the massive operation that is Orange River Wine Cellars from vineyards stretching roughly 400km along the Gariep riverbanks, Cruywagen conceded that some vineyards were already underwater. “We can’t yet say what percentage of vineyards are submerged at present – we’re still gathering information to finalise our figures which we will then use to re-assess our harvest estimates.
“However, there are positives to be taken out of this negative situation,” Cruywagen said. “Previous floods have occurred in late February and early March when the grapes are ripe and harvest is already underway. That’s always led to fruit rotting badly. With this having happened earlier in the season, when the grapes haven’t yet ripened, it’s not so critical. We might battle with disease developing and not be able to get into the vineyards to spray but we honestly don’t know if that’s going to be the case at present.”
One other factor in Northern Cape grape growers’ favour, Cruywagen said, was that many vineyards had progressively been moved to areas further away from the historic flood lines. “It’s not a crisis just yet,” was Cruywagen’s parting shot.