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Government to implement water strategy

Even though the strategy was issued back in 2013, government is in the process of implementing the second edition of the National Water Resource Strategy.

The National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS2) sets out how South Africa will achieve several core objectives and builds on the first NWRS published in 2004.

Even though the NWRS2 was published in 2013, government is currently looking at implementing the objectives thereof. The purpose of the NWRS2 is to ensure that national water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in an efficient and sustainable manner towards achieving South Africa’s development priorities — in an equitable manner — over the next five to 10 years.

The strategy responds to priorities set by government within the National Development Plan (NDP), as well as National Water Act (NWA) imperatives that support sustainable development.

Writing the foreword to the NWRS2, Trevor Balzer, a deputy director general of strategic projects at the Department of Water and Sanitation, says the strategy sets out how South Africa will achieve the following three core objectives:

•             Water supports development and the elimination of poverty and inequality;

•             Water contributes to the economy and job creation; and

•             Water is protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled sustainably and equitably.

“The major focus of the NWRS2 is equitable access and use of water by all South Africans, while sustaining our water resource,” he says.

“Equity and redistribution will be achieved through the authorisation process, as well as other mechanisms and programmes, such as water allocation reform, financial support to emerging farmers, and support to urban and rural local economic development initiatives.”

With the country’s growing population as well as focus on economic growth and development, South Africa needs to ensure water security and healthy water ecosystems that support its national imperatives. Balzer points out that apart from the water demands of the economic sectors (energy, mining and agriculture), increasing urbanisation and industrialisation place enormous pressure on the scarce water resource in terms of management and allocation.

“Over the past 10 years, water consumption of the domestic sector has increased from 22% to 27% of the total resource.

“While we have well-developed water resources infrastructure (with more than 4 395 registered dams), we are fast approaching the full utilisation of available surface water yields, and are running out of suitable sites for new dams. In addition, climate change outcomes in terms of rainfall and temperature will have a negative impact on water storage. Water demand is likely to grow at about 1.2% over the next 10 years. We, therefore, need to find new ways of reducing water demand and increasing availability that move beyond ‘traditional engineering solutions’ of infrastructure development,” he says.

Sustainable water balance

Balzer notes that ensuring a sustainable water balance requires a multitude of strategies, including water conservation and water demand management (WCWDM), further utilisation of groundwater, desalination, water re-use, rainwater harvesting, and treated acid mine drainage.

While South Africa benefited from a surplus of available water in 2000, the time has now come where a mix of water resources is required to reconcile supply and demand. Towards this end, Reconciliation Strategies have been developed to assess water balance against future needs.

These strategies will inform the country’s future water resource planning, management and investment, and key issues include:

•             Greater focus on WCWDM: every drop counts and we cannot afford to waste any more water, anywhere;

•             Increased value and utilisation of groundwater;

•             Re-use of water at the coast, as well as in inland systems;

•             Opportunity for more dams (though limited) and transfer schemes (and where the opportunity exists, it is at great cost); and


  • Small-scale seawater desalination is already being used in certain areas;
  • Treated mine water desalination is becoming more imperative;
  • Desalination of seawater on a large scale;
  • Catchment rehabilitation, clearing of invasive alien plants, and rainwater harvesting is growing in importance; and
  • Making more water available in the future, but at sharply rising costs.

“Given constraints and demands on the resource, we cannot afford practices that reduce supply, such as pollution, inefficient water management practices, lack of infrastructure maintenance, unaccounted for water, and poor governance.

“Our national economic and development priorities, together with the complex environment within which we operate, require a ‘new’ era of advanced and smarter water management. This strategy provides for robust and sustainable water sector institutions (including nine catchment management agencies and nine regional water utilities) that have the necessary capacity to manage our water resource sustainably and equitably, as well as ensure sustainable and effective service delivery,” Balzer states.

According to him, the concepts, approaches, and themes spelt out in this strategy are in line with international principles and approaches (World Water Forum and Rio+20 Summit) where social and economic goals are aligned, sector investment is increased, and water is recognised as fulfilling a central role in socio-economic planning and development.

“A key challenge of this strategy is to increase our skills and capacity within the sector for both water resource management and water services. Institutions must be appropriately staffed and resourced, and towards this end we will continue to prioritise skills development, staff motivation, and capacity building at all levels. Increasing our regulatory capacity to improve compliance and ensure that standards and licence conditions are met, is an integral part of strengthening our institutional framework and capacity.

Contribution to transformation

“Our sector makes a critical contribution to South Africa’s transformation, development and growth objectives. Access to safe water supply and making water available for productive purposes profoundly affects the daily lives of poor people and supports rural livelihoods. Through achieving these objectives we will significantly contribute to equity, redistribution, and reducing poverty in South Africa,” says Balzer.

He points out that successful implementation of this strategy will bring about great benefits: access to water and sanitation for all South Africans; availability of water to support economic growth and job creation; protection of existing assets; stimulation of the construction sector, including small and medium-scale enterprises; and protection of our precious water resource for current and future generations.

The NWRS2 acknowledges that South Africa is a water-stressed country and is facing a number of water challenges and concerns, which include security of supply, environmental degradation and resource pollution, and the inefficient use of water.

The response to the strategic context and the imperatives set out in the three core objectives is delivered through strategic themes, which discuss in detail the context and challenges, key principles to be sustained, and objectives of that particular theme, and then proposes strategic actions to achieve the stated objectives.

The most important consideration in all themes discussed is that water is scarce and it requires careful management to enable provision of basic water services and equitable allocation, while meeting the needs of inclusive economic growth without threatening the integrity of aquatic ecosystems. The water resources planning, infrastructure and development theme indicates that surface water sources are limited in many catchments, as indicated by Reconciliation Strategies, and that infrastructure as well as the costs of construction and maintenance is prohibitive.

South Africa has to prioritise — considering the mix of options available — to supply the huge water demands for equitable allocation aimed at development and economic growth. The country will thus consider other potential sources, which include water re-use; desalination; groundwater utilisation; water conservation and water demand management measures; rainwater harvesting; recovering water from acid mine drainage; and the import of water intensive goods.

The NWRS2 states that these measures will augment the available water resources to support the key developmental objectives of the country. One of the objectives is the equitable allocation of water resources.

<crosshead> Water allocation

The strategy recognises that the manner in which water was allocated in the past was unequal and favoured the white section of the population in South Africa. The NDP and NWA collectively inform the intended means to redress past imbalances in the manner in which water was allocated.

The perspective of equity in the strategy is three dimensional and includes equity in access to water services, equity in access to water resources, and equity in access to the benefits from water resource use through economic, social, and environmental development and management. The strategy intends to achieve these objectives through the use of the Water Allocation Reform Programme and mechanisms proposed, which include water set aside specifically for redress, compulsory licensing, general authorisations, development support, and partnerships to ensure that water is made available to previously disadvantaged groups.

The water resource protection theme emphasises the need to protect our fresh water ecosystems, which are under threat because of pollution from many sources. The need for the determination and preservation of the ecological reserve as well as the classification of river fresh water systems will be a priority. This will assist in determining the nature and the extent of pollution to provide appropriate rehabilitation solutions. The strategy stresses the need for the value of water to be appreciated, and for the attitudes and habits of all citizens to change towards water and to work towards its protection. It is reported that climate change will progressively alter the environment in future and present new challenges. The effects of climate change include higher temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and increased occurrences of drought and floods. The strategy proposes the development of adequate capacity within the sector and the country for monitoring and effective detection, as well as adaptation to protect water and to ensure sustainable water supplies into the future.

The Reconciliation Strategies project depletion in the water supplies for some water supply systems in the country. In light of the urgency to protect water resources and the adverse effects of climate change, the NWRS2 submits that water conservation and water demand management should be a top priority. Measures are needed to reconcile demand and supply to provide for our goals of a better life for all through job creation and economic growth.

Research published by the Water Research Commission (WRC) in 2013 indicates that non-revenue water (NRW) for urban supply systems over the past six years was at an average of 36.8%, which is equal to 1.5 billion m3/a from a total urban consumption of approximately 4.3 billion m3/a.

This research also indicates that in many municipal water supply schemes, the figures are even worse, with NRW in some cases up to 90%.The irrigation sector, which uses some 60% of the country’s water resources, accounts for losses of between 35% and 45%.


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