Implementation of the National Water Act (1998): briefing

Water and Sanitation

10 February 2004
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Meeting report

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
11 February 2004
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NATIONAL WATER ACT (1998): BRIEFING

Documents handed out
Department Progress in Implementing the National Water Act (1998): Presentation

Chairperson
: Mr J Van Wyk (ANC)

SUMMARY

The Chairperson made inhouse announcements before he invited Ms Barbara Schreiner, the Department's Senior Executive Manager of Policy and Regulation, to present the progress report on the implementation of legislation in the National Water Act (1998) [NWA]. Mr Silas Mbedzi, Manager of Institutional Oversight, assisted her. The Committee asked numerous questions, ranging from whether baptism rituals polluted rivers, to the boundaries of catchment management areas. There was some discussion of demographic representivity and transformation of many water use organisations.

MINUTES
The Chairperson made some remarks concerning Parliament's programme, and informed the Committee of an invitation to the Vula Trust's 10-year anniversary. As he was unable to attend, all agreed that Mr D Maimane (ANC) attend in his place.

Department presentation
Ms Barbara Schreiner, Senior Executive Manager of Policy and Regulation, reported that although the Department had formulated many policies, legislation and strategies to protect water resources, they still faced many challenges before there could be equity in access to water. Free Basic Water delivery was enjoyed by only 57% of the population or 76% by those with infrastructure. Other challenges included transforming irrigation boards and government water schemes to water user associations (WUA), and the establishment of catchment management agencies (CMA) and water user associations. WUAs would have to reflect class, racial and gender transformation needs.

The Department was devising a licencing process to ensure the efficient long-term management of water supply. They were engaged in a consultative and transparent process with stakeholders with regard to water pricing. Later this year, a revised National Water Resources Strategy would be launched after consultation with, and considered submissions from, the nine provinces. Government has allocated an additional R500m for drought relief purposes.

The Chairperson mentioned that the Members who had visited eight of the nine provinces during 2002/3, had encountered various concerns during their interactions. He asked who paid for the cleaning of polluted rivers, and reminded the meeting that transformation of WUAs meant ensuring meaningful participation for black people. He also hoped that the twelve schemes and irrigation boards to whom management responsibilities were transferred prior to the policy, were engaging in the same consultative process.

Discussion
Mr E Sigwela (ANC) asked how the R109m for drought relief was being applied; whether the baptism practices of certain religious groups were encouraging pollution of rivers; and if the construction of weirs should be declared illegal.

The Chairperson reminded him that an allocation breakdown of the relief fund was circulated at the previous meeting.

Ms Schreiner said that the Department had never considered religious groups to be a pollution threat. She would rather consider the issue the other way round i.e. the threat that polluted rivers might pose to communities who were dependent on rivers for their water.

Ms Schreiner added that the costs for cleaning polluted rivers were covered by the Exchequer.

Ms Schreiner would not express a legal opinion on the construction of weirs but emphasised that the flow of a river should not be stopped if it could pose a negative impact on the ecosystem. Subsistence farmers were allowed to use water for food growth.

Mr M Masala (ANC) asked why only one of 19 catchment management agencies (CMA) existed. Why had no subsidies been allocated to farmers in the Eastern Cape? Was a consultative process underway?

Ms Schreiner said that catchment management area boundaries were not plotted according to provincial boundaries. A map of the 19 catchment management areas was available. Each of these areas would be managed by a catchment management agency. No more areas would be allowed but an agency might decide to subdivide an area for better management purposes.

Ms Schreiner added that the subsidy-process was demand-driven. Normally it would take place in partnership with the provincial government and/or the Department of Agriculture. In the Eastern Cape, subsidies were being considered for two projects, namely the revitalisation of existing water schemes for self-management and availing 4000 ha of irrigation land to smaller farmers.

Ms Schreiner continued that it was easier to consult with the highly organised and well-resourced sector rather than the rural communities and unorganised sector. However, there was a ministerial requirement that a measure of consultation with the community take place before any proposal be considered by the Minister.

Mr D Maimane (ANC) thanked the Department for their consultative approach with the Committee on the National Water Act. He asked how to balance the representation on WUAs boards that were currently dominated by white farmers. He also asked if the gazetted amount of R109m had been transferred to local government.

Mr Mbedzi said that progress was being made to ensure representivity. As it was such a challenge, the Department would establish call centres in the regions to empower people regarding the WUAs. Capacity building was ongoing and training programmes would be implemented to equip people to equally participate in water use affairs.

Ms Schreiner said that 'gazetted' did not mean 'transferred' because there was an elaborate administrative process before transfer actually took place.

Mr M Sibiya (IFP) asked for clarity to be given to the open statements regarding WUAs.

Mr Mbedzi said that the process of transforming the irrigation boards to WUAs had to be expedited if targets were to be met in the next three years. The 114 new WUAs in Limpopo would benefit 12 310 farmers in an area of 18 630 ha.

Ms Schreiner added that WUAs were voluntary organisations of people who came together to manage a communal resource. Currently a huge range of associations existed ranging from highly organised, rich, sophisticated organisations, to small groups of around seven people.

Mr M Phala asked if the Department was capable of monitoring WUAs effectively and what approach the Department would take towards communities who paid for water from boreholes that ran dry during droughts.

Ms Schreiner acknowledged that it would be very difficult to monitor some 300 schemes of various complexities. The Department was in the process of establishing a set of priorities that would ensure appropriate management of these schemes.

Ms Schreiner said consumers were entitled to 6 000 litres of free basic water and that it would become a municipal issue in case of an emergency.

Chief C Hlaneki expressed concern about the failure of progress with the establishment of CMAs.

Ms Schreiner said that the lack of progress in Limpopo was due to understaffing, but the problem was being experienced at all regional offices. They did not have appropriately experienced people because they were understaffed at professional level and excessively overstaffed at junior level. The problem was being addressed through an intensive training programme.

Chief P Mathebe and Ms M Komape-Ngwenya (both ANC) asked if ordinary people were also consulted about the pricing of water. She also expressed concern about the excessive consumption of water for lawns and dams by certain farmers along the Olifants River and how this could be monitored.

Ms Schreiner said that consultation were ongoing and taking place with different degrees of intensity with all the stakeholders. All the cost drivers were being considered carefully.

Ms Schreiner added that compulsory licencing would reverse the inequitable situation of land and water allocation. It was difficult to monitor water use/abuse throughout the country. She hoped that people's water bills would encourage them towards more responsible use of water.

The meeting was adjourned.

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