A national water strategy in harmony

By the Department of Water and Sanitation

Section 6 of the National Water Act requires the strategies, objectives, plans, guidelines and procedures, as well as institutional arrangements described in the National Water Resource Strategy to be within the framework of existing relevant government policy and to support the achievement of certain compulsory standards prescribed under the Water Services Act.

Chapter 2 of the National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) describes some of the principal relationships between the National Water Act (the Act) and other national laws, policies, strategies and programmes, and the co-operative relationships needed to implement the NWRS. South Africa’s international relationships in water matters are also discussed.

The framework of existing relevant government policy

The law that directly relates to water is consolidated into two major acts: the Water Services Act, 1997 and the National Water Act, 1998. The Water Services Act provides the regulatory framework for the provision of water services by local authorities, under the overall oversight of the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry (the Minister). The Act mandates the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (the Department) to ensure that all activities relating to water resources management, by whoever they are undertaken, are in accordance with the requirements of the Act. There are, however, many other laws that govern activities that are dependent on water, or which affect water resources. A number of departments in all spheres of government administer these laws.

Diagram waternetworkThe water network
Image credit: Department of Water and Sanitation

The Department, in accordance with the Constitution, is committed to co-operating with all spheres of government to achieve the national objectives of equitable and sustainable social and economic development. However, departments cannot co-operate effectively if the policies and laws they administer are in conflict with one another. Accordingly, section 6(1)(a) of the Act requires, among other things, that the Department’s strategies and institutional arrangements for water resources management are ‘within the framework of existing relevant government policy’. In preparing the NWRS, the Department examined a number of national policies and laws to determine the extent to which the strategies, objectives, plans, guidelines and procedures, as well as institutional arrangements proposed in the strategy are in harmony with the Act’s requirement.

The policies and laws examined related to environmental management, coastal management, agriculture, the development and use of land, minerals, mining and energy, waste management, spatial development, housing, health, rural development and urban renewal, disaster management, and local government development. Provincial planning and development legislation were also considered, together with many provincial development strategies as were available.


“To support the achievement of certain compulsory specifications as prescribed in the Water Services Act.”


In general terms, no fundamental conflicts were identified between the proposals in the NWRS for implementing the provisions of the Act and the policies and laws examined. However, it is evident that policy, legislation and development planning do not always take the availability of water into account and that there is an assumption that water can always be made available for any development initiative.

The Department will continue to foster co-operative relationships with relevant departments in all spheres of government to ensure that that the NWA is implemented in harmony with their mandates.

SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS OF OTHER NATIONAL LEGISLATION

A number of national laws impose specific requirements on the Department and the water management institutions established in terms of the Act, as they carry out their mandates in respect of water resources management.

The Water Services Act, 1997 (Act No. 108 of 1997)
During the process of reviewing the Department’s organisational structure, a number of interfaces were identified between water resources management and water services provision where streamlining and integration are required, as follows:

  • Strategy and planning: Aligning strategies and planning for water resources management and the provision of water services, particularly in respect of the links between the catchment management strategies required by the Act and the water services development plans required by the WSA.
  • Water use regulation: Co-ordinating the common regulatory and audit functions for water resources management and water services, including monitoring and managing compliance with the conditions of water use.
  • Implementation: Promoting partnerships for developing and managing water resources infrastructure, and implementing interventions in, for instance, water quality management and water demand management.
  • Institutional support: Sharing capacity for empowering, co-ordinating and supporting water management and water services institutions, and transferring functions to them.
  • Information management and communications: Integrating or linking information systems and technology, and co-ordinating communication with external stakeholders and partners.

Furthermore, the Act contains specific requirements for water resources management activities to support the provision of water services. These are discussed below.

a. Water services development plans
Section 9 of the Act requires catchment management strategies to take account of the development plans prepared in terms of the WSA. All metropolitan and district municipalities, all of which are designated as water services authorities, and any local municipalities authorised to fulfil the role of a water services authority, must prepare water services development plans in terms of the WSA. These plans form part of the Integrated Development Plans that municipalities must prepare in terms of the Municipal Systems Act, 2000 (Act No. 32 of 2000).

A water services development plan will be a responsible authority’s principal source of information for determining water allocations to a municipality and issuing a licence. The plan’s requirements must be accounted for in the responsible authority’s catchment management strategy. Some of the data in water services development plans will be incorporated into the national water resources information system and will therefore contribute to national water resources planning. The plans should also contain details of water demand management and conservation measures, and contingency plans for water-related disasters.

For its part, when preparing its water services development plan, a water services authority must refer to the relevant catchment management strategy for information about the availability of water to support proposed water services targets, the source of the water, and the requirements for the quality of wastewater that is to be returned to the water resource after use.

b. Regulations under the Water Services Act
Section 6(1)(a)(ii) of the Act requires the strategies in the NWRS to support the achievement of compulsory national standards prescribed under section 9(1) of the WSA. The regulations prescribe standards for a range of water services issues. The main relationships between the regulations and requirements for water resources management are as follows:

  • Basic sanitation: The design of sanitation facilities must take account of the potential for polluting water resources, especially with regard to groundwater.
  • Basic water supply: Basic human needs are included in the reserve described in the NWRS.
  • Quality of potable water: The quality of water in rivers, dams and groundwater aquifers has a direct impact on the costs incurred by water services institutions when treating water to prescribed standards.
  • Control of objectionable substances and disposal of grey water: The Act provides for the establishment of standards for the discharge of waste or water containing waste into a water resource by regulation, and provides for the inclusion of these standards in the conditions attached to licences and general authorisations.
  • Use of effluent: The use of effluent for irrigation or to recharge a groundwater aquifer is a controlled activity under section 37 of the Act and must be authorised by a responsible authority.
  • Quantity and quality of industrial effluent discharged into a sewerage system: The capacity of sewage treatment works to meet their licence conditions under the Act will influence the type of effluent the water services institution can accept into its sewers.
  • Water services audit, water and effluent balance analysis and the determination of water losses; the repair of leaks; measurement or control of water supplied; pressure in reticulation system; and reporting of non-compliance: These relate to the requirements of the water conservation and water demand management strategy for the domestic sector.

c. Water services tariffs
Section 56 of the Act requires that the pricing strategy for water use charges support the establishment of tariffs by water services authorities.

d. Environmental legislation
Water resources management is subject to the requirements of national environmental legislation as contained in the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act No. 107 of 1998) (NEMA) and those parts of the Environment Conservation Act, 1989 (Act No. 73 of 1989) (ECA) that have not yet been repealed by NEMA.

NEMA defines the Department as a national department that exercises functions that may affect and involve the management of the environment. Regulations made in terms of the ECA define activities that may have a substantial detrimental effect on the environment. These include most of the water-related activities for which the Department is currently responsible under the Act. The Department is therefore obliged not only to ensure that all activities related to the management of water resources are carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Act, but also that they comply with the requirements of NEMA, ECA and other related environmental legislation.

e. Consolidated environmental implementation and management plan
In terms of NEMA, the Department has prepared and published a Consolidated Environmental Implementation and Management Plan (CEIMP) that describes, among other things, the Department’s functions, policies, plans and programmes, and how these comply with environmental legislation. The plan also describes existing and proposed co-operative arrangements with other departments in all spheres of government, which will ensure their compliance with water-related policy and legislation. The CEIMP must be reviewed and revised as necessary, but at least every four years, and annual progress reports must be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT).

Other departments (listed in Schedules 1 and 2 of NEMA) must also prepare Environmental Implementation and/or Environmental Management Plans. All plans must be assessed by the Committee for Environmental Co-ordination, of which the Department’s Director-General is a member, to ensure that they comply with environmental legislation and are in harmony with one another. The plans are therefore important tools for promoting a consistent and co-operative approach to environmental management.

f. Integrated environmental management framework
In its CEIMP, the Department has committed itself to developing and implementing an integrated environmental management framework to ensure that its approach to environmental issues is aligned with the national environmental principles described in NEMA, and complies with the requirements of NEMA and the Act. In particular, the framework will ensure that environmental considerations are addressed throughout the life cycle of all water-related projects and activities at both strategic and project levels. A range of appropriate environmental assessment and management tools, such as strategic environmental assessment, biophysical, social and health impact assessment, risk analysis and environmental management plans, will be developed and implemented to facilitate sound environmental practices.

g. Environmental reporting
NEMA requires DEAT to prepare an Annual Performance Report on Sustainable Development in terms of government’s commitment to Agenda 21: the United Nations’ plan of action to achieve sustainable development that was agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. As part of this commitment, DEAT also intends producing regular State of the Environment Reports for South Africa. The first edition was published in 1999.

The Department’s contributions to national environmental reporting will be co-ordinated through the integrated environmental management framework and will be facilitated by the preparation of regular State of Water Resources Reports. These reports will include information that will highlight progress in achieving the environmental objectives of the Act. The reports will indicate areas where new interventions or intensified efforts are required, and thus inform the content of subsequent editions of the NWRS.

h. Management of waste disposed onto land
By agreement with DEAT, the Department has a mandate in terms of section 20 of the ECA to oversee the management of waste disposal onto land. The Minister is responsible for issuing permits for waste disposal sites and for issuing directives concerning the management of the sites. However, Parliament has approved an amendment to the ECA that transfers this responsibility to DEAT. The transfer of the function will take place according to a timeframe agreed between the departments, with the intention of effecting the transfer by April 2005. The Department will retain responsibility for reviewing permits.

 Source: 

 The National Water Resource Strategy Programme can be accessed
 at www.dws.gov.za 


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