Department of Water & Environmental Affairs Strategic Plan 2009-2014 briefing

Water and Sanitation

11 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Sotyu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs gave a series of slide presentations on the Strategic Plans of the Department from 2009-2014. The vision, mission and mandate of the Department and its organogram were outlined. Water situation graphs showed national rainfall and evaporation patterns, international rivers whose water must be shared with other countries, and noted that 77% of water was sourced from surface, 9% from ground and 14% from return water flows. The water supply and demand were contrasted, showing a need to give serious consideration to the four large metros, and the need to manage supply to ensure social justice, community beneficiation, and compliance with Southern African Development Community protocols. Economic concentrations in the country were linked to water supply. Waste water treatment was problematic, as this function lay with under-performing municipalities. All the Departmental presenters noted that a worrying lack of proper functioning, coordination, skills and cooperation by municipalities in water issues. Although sufficient water could be sourced, this required long lead in times for development of new water schemes and would require effective planning and application across all levels. It was noted that most pollution resulted not from mines and agriculture, but from uncontrolled human effluent, particularly from unregulated settlements. The Department tabled a number of graphs on available resources across the provinces, the breakdown of water sources, requirements and reconciliation. Groundwater was fairly plentiful, but there were significant management issues around its use. Searches for alternative energy, including biofuels, would impact upon water use, and there would have to be more efficient harvesting of rainwater, rather than relying upon irrigation. Reconciliation strategies were needed for the large water systems and metros, and consideration might have to be given to pumping desalinated seawater to Gauteng. Past achievements were outlined. The challenges included the non-finalisation of the Integrated Regulatory Framework for the National Water Act, which meant that water allocation reform was lagging behind, the lack of skills and loss of skilled staff from the Department, the need to allocate water to historically disadvantaged areas, the need to develop an integrated water, rural development and land reform programme, the need for improvement in water quality and usage, and the need to improve reconciliation of requirements and resources. There was also a need to give support to municipalities and ensure their compliance with accepted norms and standards around service delivery, and to try to upgrade assets and ensure their maintenance.  A climate change response was formulated. The Water Resource Development projects were detailed, and the position of various dams was outlined. The need for acting in concert with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs was noted. 

Members hoped that the Department would achieve an unqualified audit certificate and asked that anyone not performing to scratch, who might jeopardise an unqualified certificate, be identified now so that the problems could be rectified by year-end. They asked for a report on the Water for Growth project, especially around reports that the Bushman River settlement supply was cut off after dark, and insisted upon hearing what the Department was actually doing about the problems, rather than planning to do, and what was actually being done now about problems in sewerage and sanitation. Members insisted that the Department must comply with the Strategic Plan, and questioned the viability of Water Management projects, why the Umzimvubu developments were not falling under the budget of KwaZulu Natal, whom they would benefit, the fact that certain sectors of the community were not benefiting from projects, and the use of consultants by the Department. Questions were also asked around the media reports that a contractor had destroyed yellowwood trees as he was unable to distinguish between them and black wattle, what disciplinary action had been taken, whether the work with other departments might not lead to certain matters being overlooked, the costs of purifying polluted water, cooperation from other departments, the need, in the climate change report, also to examine the likely recurrence of El Nino, and the concern that many of the water boards were not able to function because they had not been paid by the municipalities for the water supplied. The Department was asked to respond to these questions during meetings in the next week.

Meeting report

Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA or the Department) Strategic Plan briefings
Ms Nobubele Ngele, Acting Director General (Deputy Director General: Corporate Services), Department of Water Affairs, tabled her presentation document and read from it to the Committee (see attached document). She noted that the vision of the Department was to be “A dynamic, people-centred Department, leading the effective management of the nation’s water resources, to meet the needs of current and future generations.” The acronym TREE reflected its core values of Transparency, Respect Excellence and Everyone. The Department’s mandate was derived from Section 155(7) of the Constitution, and the Department was in addition mandated by Section 7 to be the national regulator for the Water Services (WS) sector. She tabled the Department’s organogram.

Overview of Water Situation
Dr Cornelius Ruiters,
Deputy Director-General: National Water Resources, DWEA, then presented an overview of the water situation, showing slides which reflected the national rainfall and evaporation patterns, and the international rivers shared by South Africa, which meant that the legislative and policy framework adopted by the Department had to accord with international protocols, especially those of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). He noted that South Africa’s water currently was sourced 77% from surface, 9 % from ground and 14% from return water flows. A further slide reflected the water demand contrasted with the water supply scenarios, and highlighted that the Livuhu/Letaba Water Management Association (WMA) improved the situation but that the four big metros needed serious consideration. He submitted that the medium term strategic objectives of the Integrated Water Resources (IWR) management, planning and infrastructure meant that the supply of water was critical, especially for the beneficiary communities. Social and environmental responsibilities were based on social justice and community beneficiation, which entailed inter-basin transfers and compliance with SADC objectives to share water courses. Growth and development initiatives were also linked. He explained that the Vaal system received its water from other catchment areas of Senqu, Tukela and Usuthu, which incurred expenses, and whilst effluents from the Vaal system augmented the Crocodile/Olifants systems, some economic activities impacted upon water quality. In support he presented a further slide, which revealed that it was cheaper to concentrate upon water loss control than interbasin water transfers

Dr Ruiters illustrated how the economic concentrations in South Africa coincided with water supply, since the vast arid inner area of South Africa had little economic value or activity. He then explained the water chain, showing that wastewater treatment was an extensive problem, especially since this currently lay within the functions of under or non-performing municipalities. He, similar to other Departmental officials, emphasised that municipalities were in a state of “inertia”. He submitted that sufficient water could be made available at all the significant urban and industrial growth points to enhance any economic development, but that the long lead times for developing new water schemes required planning between water users and water management institutions in order to ensure both optimum water use and availability of water. In terms of water security and availability, he said that water of quality appropriate for its intended use was necessary, and that, contrary to conventional wisdom, effluvia from human settlements, especially the unregulated settlements, rather than industry and mining, was the greatest source of water pollution. Other concerns were the high salinity from irrigation returns flows and the discharge of wash off and leachate from mining areas.

Dr Reuters tabled graphs of available water resources in the provinces, showing also the breakdown between surface water, ground water return flows and transfers between the two. He also tabled graphs of water requirements and water reconciliation, as also water availability compared to water usage. He noted that these showed that there was not much water available for allocation, that most of what was available was already earmarked for use, that catchments were in deficit, and that there was a lower-than-acceptable assurance of water supply.

Dr Reuters noted that the ground water (whose source lay underground) was potentially of large supply, but because it was widely dispersed it was suitable for small users such as villages and towns only, and that this gave rise to management issues. He submitted that all sectors of water users must use water more efficiently, and that towns would have to consider using underground water supplies. Since so much mining was concentrated in the arid areas of the country, the cost of water would play an increasingly important role in their activities. Searches for alternative energy supplies, which embraced bio fuels, would impact upon water use. In the future, irrigation would only be possible where there was water, and this meant that there must be more efficient harvesting of rain water. In respect of forestry, only Mzimkulu and Mzimvubu were still available for further forestation. There had needed to be reconciliation strategies for the large water systems and metros; those for the Western Cape, the Amatole, the Vaal and the Crocodile west river systems had been completed, while the KwaZulu Natal (KZN), Algoa and Bloemfontein systems were in the process of completion, with attention still needing to be given to the Olifants and Richards Bay systems. The Department had a three year study programme to cover all towns, and would be giving priority to the towns with the largest growth potential and the biggest problems. In future, solutions to water problems would entail more than the simplistic addition of further infrastructure. He reiterated that use of groundwater, even for coastal cities such as Cape Town and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan area would become increasingly important, as would inter-basin transfers, and that re use of water would become standard practice. He suggested that it might even be necessary to consider pumping desalinated seawater to Gauteng, which would be very expensive.

Policy and Regulation Strategic Outputs
Dr Sizwe Mkhize, Deputy-Director-General: Policy and Regulation, DWEA, then gave his presentation. He distinguished between key functional and key performance areas, with an overview of past achievements, which included the approval by Cabinet of the draft Water for Growth and Development framework for public consultation, the reconciliation strategies for the four metros, the launch of the Blue Drop Certification Programme for drinking water quality, and the development of an electronic water quality management system. He then proceeded to an overview of the challenges. He noted that the Integrated Regulatory Framework to support the implementation of the National Water Act was still not finalised and that the water allocation reform was lagging far behind. The skills capacity was of serious concern, as skilled people would leave the Department but remained active within the sphere. Key performance areas included the allocation of water to historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs), the need to develop an integrated water, rural development and land reform programme, the need for improvement in the water resource quality and usage, and, above all, the need to improve the ability to reconcile water requirements and available resources. In respect of this last point, he said that there had been 13 000 monitoring stations established countrywide, that a second edition of the National Water Resource Strategy, and a climate change response, had been formulated. He too noted the need for support to municipalities and the need for effecting compliance by municipalities to accepted norms and standards and proper service delivery. The lack of technical skills and the non-viability of municipalities were identified high-level risks in the process.

National Water Resources Infrastructure
Ruiters than gave his second presentation. He outlined the key functional areas of the branch dealing with National Water Resources (NWR), and gave an overview of past achievements, and overview of the challenges. He also identified the key performance areas and the rationale for their selection. He emphasised that the assets under the aegis of the Department amounted in all to R106 billion, that these needed maintenance and upgrading, and that there was a regrettable lack of discipline on the part of the agencies, the municipalities and all levels of their delivery personnel in keeping up to date legal systems and keeping the wheels of the mechanisms turning. The Department had no wish to find itself in the same situation that Eskom had faced, and that if it did, then the impact of lack of water on economic situations and humans would be worse than lack of electricity. The chief challenge was the provision and implementation of new bulk water infrastructure to meet social water needs, economic growth and development. He noted that the answers might lie in the Olifants River Water Resource Development Project (ORWRDP), and he presented details (see attached presentation) of this Project and of the mWamita Dam, the Mgeni River Water Resource Augmentation Project (construction of the Spring Grove Dam), the Mdloti River Water Resource Development project (the raising of the Hazlemere Dam wall), the Mzimkulu River Water Resource Development project, the Orange River Water Resource Development project (Vioolsdrift dam) and the Thukela River Water Resource Development Project to augment the Vaal River system water supply to Gauteng, and finally the Lesotho Highlands River Water Project Phase 11, the Olifants/Doring River Water Resource Development project and the Mzimvubu River Water Resource Development Project, intended to provide hydro power generation for Eskom.

Dr Ruiters then tabled the age profile analysis of assets and their remaining useful life, the condition and utilisation of assets, and details of the Dam Safety Rehabilitation Project, as well as details of the conversion plans from single to multi-purpose dams. The challenges were maintenance backlogs, and skills and human resources, including the need to utilise the skills that were available. He also mentioned the lack of cooperation of the municipalities that gave rise to service delivery problems. He showed the slide on the budget costs implications, but did not comment on it.

Regions strategic outputs
Ms Thandeka Mbassa, Deputy Director General: Regions, DWEA, gave an outline of the key functional areas, an overview of past achievements, the challenges and the cost implications of those challenges.  She stated that the planned interventions included more strategic support to municipalities and a revision of powers and functions of municipalities, in conjunction with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and more effective regulation of the municipalities by DWEA.

Ms Mbassa noted that in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo provinces there were two small isolated areas experiencing drought, while surrounding areas were still receiving good rainfall, and outlined the strategies to assist such area. She concluded with three slides revealing that, contrary to what was commonly believed, most pollution of water came not from the agricultural and mining industries, but the effluvia from human settlements.

Ms Ngele then gave a short slide presentation on the work of Corporate Services Strategic outputs, and Mr M Thibela, Director: Corporate Planning, DWEA, presented the slides on monitoring and evaluation systems to be adopted (see attached presentations for details).

The Chairperson hoped that the Department was working towards receiving an unqualified audit report from the Auditor-General, and asked that anyone who might not be supporting this aim or be hindering the work of the Department should be identified now, rather than leaving it too late for any problems to be rectified.

 Ms A Lovemore (DA) associated herself with such sentiments.

Ms Lovemore asked for a report on the Water for Growth project, and the Albany System especially, as the Bushman River settlement was reported as cutting off supply to households after dark, and she asked what remedial action the Department was actually taking, rather than what it might be planning to do. She asked why some of the DWEA’s activities seemed to be encroaching on the Department of Human Settlements, referring specifically to questions of sewerage and sanitation, and again asked what action the Department was actually taking, rather than merely contemplating, to get the municipalities acting effectively.

Dr Z Luyenge (ANC) questioned the Strategic Plan, saying that he was not sure of its veracity, and noted that the Committee should insist on the “money being put where the mouth is”. He also expressed concern about the viability of Water Management projects. In regard to asset management, he wanted assurance that the required maintenance was being provided effectively and timeously. He feared a crisis with water similar to the recent crisis with electricity. Finally, he questioned the placing of the Umzimvubu developments in the budget of the Eastern Cape, noting that Umzimvubu, although located in the Eastern Cape, was actually intended to benefit KZN, and therefore should be reflected against the KZN budget.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) said he was concerned about the fact that developments were described by the Department as being for the benefit of the community, whereas it seemed that only certain sectors might be able to benefit. He was also concerned that in many instances it appeared that those who had scarce skills would resign from the Department, but reappear only weeks later as consultants, being paid considerable higher fees than their salary had been. He expressed concern that the Department was not actively recruiting among the pool of university and other graduates who were presently unemployed, as other departments were doing, thus giving both themselves and the graduates a chance of benefiting.

Mr G Morgan (DA) addressed the Water for Growth Project, expressing his great concern about the reports in the media recently that 150 old and irreplaceable yellowwood trees had been cut down, allegedly because the contractor had not been able to differentiate between yellowwood trees and black wattle. He cited this as yet another example of a skills deficiency, and added that of even more concern was that there had been no reports of disciplinary action taken against those who had perpetrated this ecological disaster. He expressed concern that if the DWEA and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs were both active in overlapping spheres of activity, this might lead to overlooking of notices to non-performing municipalities, and might result in no responses in fact being received from the recalcitrant municipalities. He suggested that if Section 119 Notices were issued then the recipient should be compelled to report, on at least a quarterly basis, on the outcome of any remedial action, and that these reports must come to Parliament, this Committee, both departments and the Provincial administrations concerned.

Mr Morgan asked for a breakdown of the costs of purifying polluted water, and reports of co-operation from the Departments concerned with agriculture, mining and human settlements. He finally stated that he was concerned that not one of the reports and scenarios projected had mentioned the likely results should El Nino recur, which international reports indicated was likely, and which was likely also to have a deleterious impact on Southern Africa, the SADC countries. He asked what planning was being undertaken to obviate the effects of the El Nino phenomenon.

The Chairperson noted that she was interested to hear more about the malfunctioning water boards, many of which were in difficulty because the municipalities were not paying them for water supplied. No person or body could be expected to perform properly if they were not being paid.

The Chairperson also warned that the Department should ensure that the Department did begin to hire unemployed graduates, as suggested earlier, and put them to work for everyone’s benefit.

The Chairperson noted that all the officials, especially Dr Mkhize, were required to provide the answers to these questions, and to elaborate upon their reports, at the meetings planned for the forthcoming week.

The meeting was adjourned.

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