The pollution of South Africa’s rivers is at an unacceptable level, according to the Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. Addressing the Committee after presentations by two water catchment management agencies, he said there was not a single water management area where pollution was not happening. In the main, the pollution was being caused by municipalities whose water treatment works were failing. In most of the rivers, there was a high level of e-coli because the effluent discharge was not to the right standard. There was also too much pollution caused by mining, especially around Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal, and Gauteng. In Cape Town, there were also some areas which had pollution, and even though the levels were not too bad, they were not acceptable. The government needed to introduce the waste discharge charge system, so that those who were responsible could be brought to book.
The Breede-Gouritz and Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agencies presented their strategic and annual performance plans. Both entities said their focus would be on the legal use of water, the creation of awareness among the youth and communities about critical water issues, and redressing the inequities of the past by ensuring water allocation reform to benefit those who were previously disadvantaged.
Members asked about the impact of Covid-19 on their operations; whether drilling boreholes and supplying storage tanks was benefiting the communities in their areas; whether river and dam rehabilitation programmes could lead to job creation; and how they would try to keep river systems free of sewage pollution.
The Department said that the two catchment management areas had demonstrated the importance of water resource management at the local level, as they were ensuring that communities and previously disadvantaged people participated in water resource management. The issuing of water licenses should be used as a tool to ensure that the skewed water allocation process, where a certain sector had access to more water than other sectors, would be addressed.
Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency
Mr Jan van Staden, Chief Executive Officer, Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency (BGCMA), said the entity had seven strategic focus areas.
In the area of water resource management, the goal was to ensure the legal use of water, where the target was to comment on 90% of land use planning and rezoning applications. To manage water use, the BGCMA was planning on 3 700 water registrations being signed, and validation and verification letters being captured, dealing with backlogs, issuing 400 audit reports for water use compliance, and completing 20 water quality compliance reports of municipal waste water treatment works that discharge into water resources.
To promote effective integrated water resources management (IWRM) and empowered stakeholders, it aimed to capacitate and create awareness in this aspect among 25 000 learners and stakeholders.
It would fund water-related community projects, and support 200 forums over the five-year period.
Water allocation reform would be focused on historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs) and resource-poor farmers. The farmers would be assisted in completing financial applications for government subsidies, and ten workshops would be held to capacitate and empower them in water resource management. The aim was to install 2 000 rainwater harvesting tanks at the rate of 400 a year.
80 BGCMA water resource points would be monitored to enhance and maintain water quality, and three river rehabilitation projects would be funded and technically supported.
Strategic support would be directed at broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) initiatives, with a focus on increasing its percentage of purchases from black suppliers. For effective organisational development, the target was to fill 75% of the approved posts on the organogram.
In the strategic focus area of management and governance, the goal was to produce all the corporate compliance reports and non-financial reporting scripts, to sign the shareholder compacts, and sign agreements related to inter-governmental relations initiatives.
Ms Zanele Mngoma, Chief Financial Officer: BGCMA, said the proposed budget for 2020/21 was R68.1 million, increasing to R85.2 million by 2023/4. The current cost of employment was set at R44.2 million, and goods and services at R21.9 million. Included in goods and services was R2.3 million for river rehabilitation, R2 million for rainwater harvesting tanks, and R877 128 for verification and validation of water use.
56.81% of the BGCMA budget would be funded through augmentation from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), and included the transfer of water to the Berg-Olifants Water Management Area. At the Berg Olifants Water Research Commission (WRC), the DWS was collecting the water charges on behalf of the BGCMA, with an agreement that the Department would transfer back the money to the Agency. The balance of the budget (43.19%) would be funded through direct billing and collections of water resource charges.
Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency
Dr Thomas Gyedu-Ababio, CEO: Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA), said the vital attributes of the Agency’s water management area were agricultural use, industries, mining, forestry, nature conservation and tourism, trans-boundary water resources, and strategic source waters.
Its key projects included:
- Preventing and remedying water resource pollution through integrated water quality management;
- Verification of existing lawful water use;
- Piloting and implementing a water allocation plan, and finalising compulsory licensing where necessary to achieve water allocation reform;
- River system operations -- river operations and flow and rainfall data loggers;
- Billing of water users for water resource management;
- Technology support through information technology (IT) software and hardware;
- Implementation of a groundwater strategy;
- Creating awareness of water conservation and demand management;
- Water use licence authorisations;
- Clean river campaigns.
The budget for the current year was R156.8 million, increasing to R165.9 million and R175.6 million over the next two years. The Water Trading Entity’s (WTE’s) current contribution would be a grant of R106 million, and R47.2 million for water resource charges. The balance would be interest income.
The key challenges facing the IUCMA were the implications of the Schedule 3 delegation, the need for redress and equitable access through the transformation of water allocation, insufficient water use charges, and climate change impacts, which would affect water quality and availability, storage infrastructure, matching supply with demand, solid waste management, and disaster and risk management.
Mr M Mashego (ANC) said the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency was saying that in the process of them either collecting or billing, they bill the city of Cape Town through the Department and the money gets deposited in the Department, and the money would later on be deposited in their account. This meant there was an administration fee that they had to pay unnecessarily going through this bottleneck. He asked how they sourced their 5 000 learners, and what the success rate of that particular sourcing was.
He commented that in both entities’ budgets, they were not indicating the possibility of facing the challenges of COVID-19. Did they want Members to believe that irrespective of COVID-19 they were still going to meet their budgets? The IUCMA was even budgeting its personnel expenditure at above the expected norm of 25 to 30%. Instead, it was budgeting at between 38% and 69% as expenditure for human resource payment, which was way beyond the norm for an operational entity.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked if the agencies could send their revised APPs and strategic plans to the Committee, since they had said they were going to adjust them and their targets.
She said that when the Inkomati-Usuthu CMA spoke about empowering historically disadvantaged individuals, they should be specific about who those were. Was the project of drilling of boreholes and supplying storage tanks going to benefit people around that jurisdiction? She also asked about the vacancy rate, and how they were going to fill those positions.
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) asked about the Inkomati-Usuthu CMA water rehabilitation programme, and whether it provided an opportunity that could result in job creation. Although there was a learnership programme, in the end the learners were not absorbed, and asked if the agency could remedy this.
Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama- ah) asked if they maintained a clean river system, to ensure that no sewage got in the river system and ensured that African children were not impacted.
Ms C Seoposengwe (ANC) asked the Breede-Gouritz CMA about the ten workshops they had held -- what their success rate was, and how effective they were.
The Chairperson commented that in responding to Mewmbers’ questions, the entities’ best line was reference to the National Development Plan (NDP). It was acknowledged that South Africa’s unemployment was growing and there was an inequality gap, as people were still poor. Neither agency had talked about targeted jobs in their area of operations. She wanted to know what their contribution would be towards job creation and uplifting the poor in their areas.
The river rehabilitation programme used to be a very strong and massive job creator in the country, but for the past five years, they had not seen it. She asked what the challenge was, because it was about the environment and educating the communities about living within natural resources without causing harm to them. She asked why the programme was no longer having the impact they had seen previously.
She commented that the Breede-Gouritz CMA had not talked about the water allocation in their area, and asked if they could give an overview of what they had done about the distribution of water in their area.
Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency
Mr Van Staden explained why the billing process for the City of Cape Town involved a circuitous route via the DWS in Pretoria before it received payment. This was the BGCMA was transferring water into a neighbouring receiving water management area, which could not collect water charges on their own. That money was flowing into a big pot that was sitting in the DWS, which was why they always had to submit an invoice to the Department so that the refund could come from Pretoria and not via the receiving water management area, because there was no CMA in place. He noted that he agreed that it was a long route, and it would be better if they could invoice the neighboring water management area -- that is, it would be more reasonable if there as a CMA in place in the neighboring area, as this would speed up the process tremendously and result in more efficiency.
He said they sourced their learners through awareness and capacity building. The water field was almost like a type of scientific biology class in a school, so they target the schools by approaching the schoolmaster to see if they could give a class or do a workshop. The result was that there was always tremendous eagerness from different schools, and was not difficult to achieve the 5 000 target, as they were plenty of takers. It was very successful, and it made a huge difference. The schools were looking forward it every year.
He said there may be sewage in their water management area because of overflows from pump stations that pump raw sewage. Luckily, however, because of the huge social network they had set up in the area, each time a member of the public or their forums witnessed any raw sewage flowing into rivers, there was a response. However, they were not aware of any problem where raw sewage was flowing into rivers in their area, other than by accident. There was also a wide monitoring programme, and they had not picked up any serious raw sewage pollution of their water resources.
He said the workshops were extremely successful and were well attended. They had witnessed an increase in the water licence applications, as well as funding applications. They also bring the other government departments in, such as agriculture, and there had been an increase in emerging farmers approaching those departments to get the necessary water and agricultural support.
The upliftment of the poor in their area was critically important for everything they did at the BGCMA. They had implemented a social programme where they established community gardens, food gardens, and agriculture for the youth, women and the previously disadvantaged, and those initiatives were creating opportunities to provide livelihoods.
Referring to the efficiency in processing licence applications, he said every time there was a successful application, especially from poor women and the previously disadvantaged, they created job opportunities.
The removal of alien vegetation was not such a prevalent issue anymore. In the past six or seven years, it had been referred to as the “Working for Water” programme, and it had resided in the then Department of Water Affairs, but subsequently moved to Environmental Affairs. They were working with the Department of Environmental Affairs, but because the task was enormous, they could not leave it to one entity -- they all had to work together and combine resources to make a real difference. There was potential to expand that type of project.
Concerning how the water was distributed between the different sectors in their water management area, he said that in their sector they were like a rural water management area, so most of their water (80%) was for agricultural water. There was a small portion for industrial use, and the rest was used by municipalities for drinking water.
He commented that they did not have any treatment plants under their control.
Ms Mngoma said COVID 19 had huge budget implications for their business. They had looked at this matter, but their hands were tied now that the Minister was the custodian of water resource management. As a result, they could not make any decisions without consulting the Department. They would contact the Department because they were considering giving payment relief to all their users, now that they had also suffered because of the pandemic. Things were not looking good -- as of March, they had covered only 25% of the collections, and their major billings were in March and September. March was when the lockdown had started, so it had huge implications for them.
Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Area
Dr Gyedu-Ababio, responding on the personnel expenditure, remarked that they were a knowledge-based water management institution and the norm had been a 60:40 ratio, and the board had been trying to keep it at that level, but because they had enough people to do the work they had cut down drastically on the work done by outside contractors or service providers.
After they had revised the budget, they would send the new targets to the Members.
Concerning the empowering of historically disadvantaged individuals, they were targeting women, youth and the previously disadvantaged in general. They had not done very well in respect of people with disabilities, but they provide resources for farmers when they could support them with, tanks and boreholes. They coordinate subsistence allowances for the agricultural front.
When it came to providing boreholes and tanks, they used their corporate social investment (CSI) budget. When a call came from needy people, they would visit them to see who they were, and what they needed.
The agency did not have many vacancies. After the lockdown was lifted, they would plan on what positions could be filled this year and next. Because of the lockdown, they could not do advertising, as it would not be fair to continue recruiting during this period.
Referring to river rehabilitation, he said that when it rained upstream from the catchment area, everything came down. They were doing education awareness campaigns to make sure that the communities knew exactly the impact of their activities. They use the CMA forums to create awareness.
With the learnership programme, the internships had been extended to two years because they knew people could not get jobs outside, and they were absorbing some of them
Although they had sewage in the water, they were working with the municipalities to ensure that these matters were resolved. They did not operate any water treatment works, as this was the work of the DWS and the municipality.
An official from the Department commented on the importance of CMAs in the country, and said she thought the two CMAs had demonstrated the importance of water resource management at a local level, because after 1994 they had had to make sure that the communities and previously disadvantaged people participated in water resource management. This was what they had been trying to do with the establishment of CMAs. The issues of pollution and ensuring that they protected the resources were being dealt with at a local level, and this was where the poor women and local people participated actively through the forums, and also in clearing water issues around the rivers
She conceded that billing had been a problem because it had been centralised, but they had now started to decentralise it so that CMAs could managed it at a local level.
It was encouraging that they were getting more learners to understand water resource management and environmental crimes. They were also working with the schools in various areas.
Concerning the issues of rehabilitation and pollution, she said once a year they participated actively in involving communities on river issues. There were several rivers they were monitoring, and the poor -- particular women – were active participants.
The Department could provide the actual numbers of licences for the historically disadvantaged. The CMAs provided the platforms where poor people could come in and be shown how they could apply for a licence. They helped the previously disadvantaged to ensure that they had access and were assisted in filling in the required application forms
Deputy Minister’s response
Mr David Mahlobo, Deputy Minister: Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, referred to the alignment of policy documents for the country like the NDP, and said they could confirm that these APPs to a great extent were aligned. One of the things that needed to be done by the CMAs as a matter of agency was to complete what they call the ‘catchment management strategies,’ because wherever they were managing, they had to have that particular plan in terms of the delegation given to them. In the absence of those plans, they would not be in a position to see the alignment, such as whether what was a contribution in terms of job creation, or economic and social imperatives.
Issues of delegations were clearly defined in terms of the National Water Act, but these institutions were still building capacity over time, so that when the capacity was built, the function could be transferred from the Department. This was because in areas were there were no CMAs, the Department still performed the water resource management function, as required by the law. It was planned that by 2024, an additional six CMAs would be established.
He remarked that the CMAs were involved to a certain degree in water use licences, but ultimately the majority of these licences were still concluded in the Department. They needed to look at using licences as a tool to ensure that they did not continue with the skewed water allocation process, where a certain sector was having more water than other sectors. Licences should also be used for redressing the inequalities of the past. The Department should be able to provide to the Committee with information on how much water they had been able to set aside for black people, in particular women and youth, over the last 26 years.
For water allocation to happen, it was important to complete the water use registration on who was using what, and for what. Based on that, they could verify and validate the water users so that their actions could not be seen as arbitrary. Verification and validation were issues that they had not dealt with well as a Department and as a sector. Black economic empowerment had not been advanced because they had needed to have more water being released for economic use.
The CMAs’ presentations had made it clear they were committed to job creation, but they needed to put some numbers or percentages, saying how many jobs they could create. There were direct jobs that they could provide, for example the cleaning of the rivers and canals, and the maintenance of the dams.
Mr Mahlobo said there were programmes that Members needed to support, such as the “adopt a river,” and the adoption of dams by all of them was going to be important.
Lastly, he remarked on that pollution as actually at an unacceptable level. There was not a single water management area where pollution was not happening. In the main, the pollution was being caused by municipalities whose water treatment works were failing. In most of these rivers, there was a high level of e-coli because the effluent discharge was not to the right standard. There was also too much pollution in other areas, where pollution was caused by mining, especially around Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal, and Gauteng. In Cape Town, there were also some areas which had pollution, and even though the levels were not too bad, they were not acceptable. They needed to introduce the waste discharge charge system, so that those who were responsible could be brought to book.
Regarding the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency still being owed, the Department would ensure that it was paid what was due to them so that they did not paralyse it.
The meeting was adjourned.
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