National Water Resource Strategy 2: Department of Water and Sanitation briefing

Water and Sanitation

19 August 2014
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson opened the meeting by welcoming Members and other participants. He received apologies received from the Minster of Water and Sanitation who was absent due to cabinet meeting engagements and the Deputy Minister who was ill. Moving onto the business before the Committee, he reminded Members of the extent of dissatisfaction constituencies expressed with regards to water provision and sanitation. He advised that the sitting should engage the issue very seriously and promptly to cover as much ground as possible as the issues of water and lack of sanitation were reaching crisis levels in some communities. The Chairperson requested Members to reiterate some of the grievances voiced and hardship currently endured by their constituencies. The problem was recurring and receiving a lot of coverage by the media.

The Chairperson said the Department would have to brief the Committee by actively responding to issues raised by Committee Members.

Members were overwhelmed by the number of complaints of a lack of water they received from their respective constituencies. There was round dissatisfaction from Members who said that many communities were living without any water whatsoever and many receiving poor quality of water .Members repeatedly remarked about the inability of local government to meet demand. During some oversight visits Members had witnessed deteriorating water infrastructure and asked what concrete steps were being taken to ameliorate the situation. Members complained about the lack of responsiveness from the Department as well as municipalities and water utility bodies.

The Department of Water and Sanitation said that there National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) 2 was a plan to address the issues being raised by Members of the Committee and many communities. It would do this by implementing reconciliation strategies that would balance water supply and demand. Plans to consolidate the twelve existing water boards into nine viable Regional Water Utilities had been drawn up and the completion of this was expected in 2015. Along with this nine, Catchment Management Agencies would be established that would be able to focus specifically on its responsible area. The Department said that the NWRS 2 was aligned with the key objectives of the National Development Plan and would ensure the 2030 vision was met.

The Department outlined its key achievements as well as outstanding challenges.
Members complained about the abundance of plans and strategies whilst little seemed to be happening on the ground.
 

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson opened the meeting by welcoming Members and other participants. He received apologies received from the Minster of Water and Sanitation who was absent due to cabinet meeting engagements and the Deputy Minister who was ill. Moving onto the business before the Committee, he reminded Members of the extent of dissatisfaction constituencies expressed with regards to water provision and sanitation. He advised that the sitting should engage the issue very seriously and promptly to cover as much ground as possible as the issues of water and lack of sanitation were reaching crisis levels in some communities. The Chairperson requested Members to reiterate some of the grievances voiced and hardship currently endured by their constituencies. The problem was recurring and receiving a lot of coverage by the media.

The Chairperson said the Department would have to brief the Committee by actively responding to issues raised by Committee Members.

Discussion
Mr L Basson (DA) said oversight was critical in this area. The Member said there had been some improvement in a few areas. For example, the Madibeng municipality was under control as Magalies Water was running and the quality of water had improved in the area despite the availability ie quantity not meeting demand. He listed four sewage plants in the Madibeng municipality; and stated that one of them had run out of chlorine gas and was therefore dumping raw sewage into the rivers and Hartebeesport Dam. This needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said the problem of water and sanitation had not been remedied in his constituency. Many of the water resource schemes introduced under Nelson Mandela's administration were now defunct; even water tankers which serviced some of the areas had not been maintained or serviced in over four years. The Member made reference to a Sunday Times newspaper report, which alleged that newly purchased water pipes to the value of R 60 million had been dumped. Mr Mpontshane said these and other similar incidences did not seem to evoke any response or interest from the responsible parties. The Committee was thus a good place to begin tackling these issues

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) said he had visited Members of a community in Mpumalanga and had engaged stakeholders under the Umjindi municipality who complained that the water supply was inadequate and the infrastructure deteriorating. He made especial mention of zone fourteen, in the Nkomkazi municipality, were residents has begged him to intervene.

Ms H Kekana (ANC) said she came from Madibeng district where the water situation was quite desperate, with many residents having no access to water and widespread burst water pipes.

Mr T Makondo (ANC) said his office had received reports on Sunday that residents living around the Jozini dam were without water. According to him, this situation in that municipality might be indicative of the water supply problems being faced in the rest of the country. Drawing on other constituency visits, he said that his office had contacted the Director-General's office with an invitation to visit two water plants in the Jozini municipality area as these seemed to be malfunctioning and not supplying water. But the Director-General however had not been able to oblige him or the stakeholders in that community. It was thus clear that the challenges of water supply were enormous and the Committee needed to consider performing its oversight role even over weekends, as the water was a serious problem in the country.

Ms M Khawula (EFF) started by asking why the Human Rights Commission was not before the Committee as the lack of water was now a human rights issue. Perhaps the Public Protector needed to be drawn into addressing water and sanitation in the country. She reported having received complaints of there being no water in some schools, whilst the elderly complained about not being able to take their medication. Therefore the water supply problems were now affecting young and old. The Member recognised the Department of Water and Sanitation being before the Committee but hastened that the Committee had been promised investigations and swift action into issues raised by their constituents, but nothing was happening. Ms Khawula repeatedly voiced her frustrations over the inadequate responses to water demands by Members of affected communities. She continued by saying the eThekwini municipality has serious problems in meeting demand and providing adequate service. Tugela, Tungulu and the Mooi River areas had witnessed intense service delivery protests over water, which had turned violent and led to roads being blocked and damaged pipes. Whilst in some rural areas there was simply no access to piped water at all. The situation in many parts of the country was now unbearable. Ms Khawula said it was time to call the major before the Committee. She questioned why simple remedial action like providing water tankers for relief was not taking place when people had no access to water whatsoever. She said people had begun accept that there were no jobs or houses, but could the people at least have water.
Ms Khawula said ward councillors were unresponsive and could anyway not intervene effectively in any event.

Mr M Galo (AIC) raised the issue of the power vested in local government by the constitution. He said Section 155(108) of the Constitution provided district municipalities with the same duties and powers in the provision of water as local municipalities. Therefore much confusion existed even when it came to addressing the issue of access to water. Mr Galo suggested a joint sitting with the Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs in which the existence of District Municipalities should be discussed and reconsidered, if they failed to cooperate or take directives from the Department of Water and Sanitation. As the other Committee Members he received many complaints over access to water and sanitation. In some constituencies, residents said they drank water with the animals. Some instances of corruption, like the Alfred Nzo municipality, where R 28 million went missing a few officials had been arrested. But no thorough feedback about the management of the municipality had been received and the respective officials had since been released.

The Chairperson suggested that whenever the Committee was being briefed by the Department of Water and Sanitation the sanitation division should be present so as to allow for issues to be tackled holistically. He reiterated that the Department should ensure the sanitation division always participated in such briefings. He stated that the issues facing the Committee were not new. Therefore, the Department needed to hit the ground running in its briefing and its presentation should directly answer issues raised in the meeting. The Chairperson said he was aware of the Departments busy schedule and pressure facing it, but took issue with the lack of responsiveness by the Department as he had tried to call the Department, researchers and even the Director-General himself to no avail. He reiterated the fact that he did not so much as receive a call back or any kind of acknowledgement and that such a lack of responsiveness and/or common courtesy to return a call spoke volumes of the Departments attitude. However, he hoped for a better and amicable relationship going forward as the work ahead was a lot. The Chairperson went onto highlight climate change as it related to water and sanitation intimately. Therefore, the Committee should also deal with this issue and its impact on national water resources. The Chair then requested the Department to streamline their presentation and focus directly on answering the specific issues raised.

Department of Water and Sanitation briefing
Mr Trevor Balzer, Acting Director General of the Department of Water and Sanitation, stated that the National Water Resource Strategy was mandated by the National Water Act, which also gave a directive for it to be re-worked every five years. But a longer period should ideally cover ten years as opposed to five, a finding the Minister for Water and sanitation concurred with. With regards to the National Water Resource Strategy, public consultation had taken place and the comments as well as the grievances arising from the process had been considered when drafting the strategy. Thus, many of the problems raised by the Committee had been taken into account in drawing up the Department’s plan of actions. Mr Balzer said there were some policy issues around water sharing agreements and water allocation relating to the sunset clauses for holders of water licences.

The Chairperson interjected, reiterating the urgency of Member constituent’s grievances and a request for the presenter to respond directly to some of the issues raised by Members such as communities, in the Jozini municipality who lived in the vicinity of a dam and yet could not access any water in their homes.

Mr Balzer explained that the problem in the case of the Jozini municipality was that the dam had originally been designed and built as a single purpose dam servicing the agricultural sector. But the Department in collaboration with the Mhlatuze Water utility were undertaking water reticulation processes to ensure such dams serviced private homes. Further, the Minister was scheduled to visit the Jozini municipality and address the pressing water supply issues there.

In response to Mr Mnguni, Mr Balzer said the Umjindi municipalities challenges in supplying water had been noted and undertook to address the issues there.

Responding to Mr Basson's concerns on Madibeng, Mr Balzer said the water resources along the Hartebeespoort dam had been refurbished and some progress had been made, but stated that the Department was constrained by its budget and had been engaging municipalities on taking up their responsibilities.

Responding to the Chairpersons inquiries about the absence of the sanitation division at the Committee briefing and the slim feature in the National Water Resource Strategy 2, Mr Balzer apologized for the absence of the official responsible for sanitation, explaining that the official was briefing another Committee meeting. And with regards to sanitation not being covered extensively in the Department's strategy document, he stated that sanitation was not mandated by the National Water Act. But new legislation was being drafted to create one act to regulate and govern both water and sanitation.

In response to Ms Khawula, Mr Balzer said that the problem of unresponsive or ineffective councillors – particularly at ward level - and officials was in part due to a skills shortage and knowledge gap in the value chain of water provision which the Department had picked up.
In terms of the general access to water, some in-roads had been made in increasing water resources and access. However, this did not translate so well in redressing historical racial and gender imbalances of access to water. This was in part due to the simple fact that the Department water application process was in-bound and depended on applicants to come forward.

Mr Balzer said there were issues around the sustainable and equitable provision of water that needed to be addressed and clarified who had the right to water and if water license holders should be allowed to trade the water rights. This was under consideration and would be resolved in conjunction with the Minister.
Mr Balzer clarified a constitutional issue raised by Mr Galo of district municipalities as well as local municipalities who were mandated to provide water supply. He explained that although the constitution mandated both types of municipalities in terms of the provision of water services, the arrangement was still governed by the Municipal Systems Act. The arrangement was such that the municipal systems act ensured a differentiated allocation of roles and responsibilities for district and local municipalities. They were a lesser number of water services authorities which is a lesser number of the total number of municipalities. In some areas local municipalities were water service authority and in others it the district. However, the minister had instructed the Department to engage the Department of Cooperative and Traditional government so as to investigate district municipalities that were not capable of providing the service, such as the Maobane municipality in Giyani.

Ms Mari Brisly, Chief Director at the DWA presented the second part of the briefing and explained that the Department's National Water Resource strategy was in line with the National Development Plan and its core functions/responsibilities were; water resource planning, development and infrastructure management, water resource protection, ensuring equitable water use , water conservation and water demand management, managing water resources for climate change, regulation of the water sector and the international and trans-boundary water resource management.

She stated that one of the most pressing issues was under-funding in the water sector which was as high as 50% including all finances made available by government as well as funding from the private sector. The National Water Resource Strategy 2 comprised feedback from the policy review process of the National Water Resource Strategy 1 and highlighted several policy issues that needed to be addressed.

Mr Balzer added that with regards to emerging policy areas he had taken note of the Committee's request to be briefed on the “use it or lose it” (the sunset clause) principle of water licensing, which spoke to entitlements of water licence holders, the trading of water licenses was still legal under current legislation but should be revoked as any relinquishing of water rights should accrue to the state and not be traded on the open market; thirdly, prioritising social and economic equity in access to water towards redress.; fourthly, it was clear that re-engineering and planning was necessary to ensure multiple-use infrastructure as was the case at the Jozini dam.

Mr Balzer said while much progress in providing water infrastructure had been made since 1994, with as much as 95% coverage of the country the reality on the ground was that only 65% of this infrastructure was reliable. Whilst in some regions like KZN and Mpumalanga that statistic fell to ca. 40%. Clearly, there were a number of bottlenecks in the value chain.

Ms Brisly continued that water resource research and development was taking place. Salt Water desalination was a technology under research and was already being used to a limited extent in the treatment of saline ground water. This technology would become key in future but was currently still too expensive.

The Chairperson asked who owned South Africa's water resources water. As it should be straight forward, that is to say, the state owned the water and the minister was the custodian and yet it could not be as simple as that as there were many examples of private individuals who continued to hold onto water rights they had acquired. This referred to the sunset clauses and the “use it or lose it” principles. He asked what the state of affairs was regarding this as children just died whilst water continued to be treated like commodity. The Chairperson asked “use it or lose it” principles actually applied as it seemed many private individuals simply held water rights and people who needed the water did not have access to it. He further asked what happened to companies that polluted our water resources. Mr M Johnson asked what was being done to support category B and C municipalities which were struggling to supply water. He further questioned the deadline given by the Minister of Water and sanitation for the complete audit of the national water resources and infrastructure.

Mr Bassoon echoed the sentiment of the Chairperson as there seemed to be no consequences for municipalities that killed people with dirty water. He said it was possibly time to consider moving the water service responsibility from local government as there was no accountability.

Ms Khawula said the Committee needed to roll up it sleeves and engage stakeholders from community development workers to SALGA. These stakeholders were by and large unresponsive despite getting paid. The issue of water licences need to be reviewed as it could not be that private individuals withheld water rights while the people did not have access to water. She continued, people were suffering and even in Cape Town water. The Member said that there were a lot of great plans and yet the provision of water was not taking place as it should whilst more and more planning took place.

Responding to some of the comments, Ms Brisly said there were support mechanisms such as response teams that assisted category B and C municipalities who were struggling to provide water services.

Mr Balzer said he could not respond directly to which companies had polluted water resources and what penalties were laid. But he could pin point three specific cases in which penalties were handed down to certain mining companies. The process however did not take place before the water tribunal and once a case of pollution against an offender had been made it went before the courts and became a civil matter.
The “use it or lose it” principle did indeed apply. The problem of water rights holders who had obtained their right in the old apartheid era was being addressed by the Minister and had been converted into basic water entitlements.

The Chairperson said there was no time to deal with all the issues before the Committee but could possibly be addressed in the scheduled workshops. He requested for the minutes of the previous meeting for example to be dealt with in the next meeting. He said that the Department did not seem too sure in covering the issue of shale gas fracking as regards the risk to water pollution. But the issue was an important one and needed to be dealt with the next Committee meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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