National Water Resources Strategy: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

15 September 2004
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Meeting report

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
16 September 2004
NATIONAL WATER RESOURCES STRATEGY: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:

National Water Resources Strategy: Department PowerPoint presentation
Department document on Framework for Water Allocations

SUMMARY
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) briefed the Committee on the National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS) and 'Framework for water allocations'. The Committee decided to meet again to discuss unresolved issues from the meeting, some falling outside the ambit of the Strategy. Members were not convinced that small-scale farmers and previously disadvantaged communities were receiving adequate access to water. A critical focus of the NWRS was increased stakeholder participation. Consultative technology needed to be upgraded in rural areas. The Department reported that it was no longer directly involved in delivery of water services. This task was now in the hands of local government. A question mark remained over equitable allocations of water resources, especially concerning gender equity. Theoretically, the Strategy enforced general Government equity objectives, but in practice results were below par. Both presentations revealed the critical scarcity of water in South Africa, which has below average rainfall relative to other countries. Areas designated as 'water stressed' were of particular concern to the Committee.

MINUTES
The DWAF delegation consisted of Ms B Schreiner, Senior Executive Manager: Policy and Regulation; Mr A Seetal, Director: Water Allocation; and Mr F Ngoate, Acting Manager: Strategic Co-ordination. Mr Ngoate briefed the Committee on the National Water Resources Strategy (see attached document).

The Chairperson reported that Cabinet had approved the Strategy on 1 September, and the Committee hoped to have the Bill completed by October after holding public hearings. Due to time constraints, several questions raised by Members went unanswered. Therefore, another full day of discussions between Department and Committee would be necessary.

There were unanswered concerns around poverty alleviation, promoting investor confidence in the economy and conflicting views between the Department and Committee Members about rural areas. A lively debate over the apparent deferral of water delivery to local government led to the Chairperson calling for a workshop to be attended by all Departmental institutions involved in the NWRS and this Committee.

Discussion
Mr T Ramphele (ANC) wanted the Department to elaborate on the contents of the NWRS. What exactly did 'complimentary strategies' entail, he asked.

Ms Schreiner replied that the Strategy tried to separate the science of managing water resources from the socio-political objectives of the National Water Resources Act, 1997. The Act specifically required consultation with the public. Therefore the Strategy was aimed at increasing stakeholder participation. To build capacity across various water departments, managers were encouraged to contribute to the NWRS. In the past, complicated jargon stemming from research and development driven programmes had marginalised such participation. Presently rural areas were not sufficiently equipped with consultative technology, and the Department would focus on correcting this.

Mrs M Gumede (ANC) asked to what extent neighbouring countries exchanged ideas and solutions for efficient management of shared water resources. She also asked what contingency plans the Department had for instances where long term allocation of water exceeded the amount permitted by formal water restrictions.

Mr Ngoate said the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was an internationally shared resources project. The basis for such a relationship was shared benefits. Information and developmental research was cross-referenced among stakeholders to optimise mutual results. Mr Seetal replied that an emergency task team dealt with cases of over-allocation of water. He explained that water restrictions differed across various sectors and regions. Short-term restrictions applied to business, recreational and domestic users of water (Schedule 1 users), whereas Compulsory Licensing was a long-term strategy for water management.

Mr Ramphele asked whether the Department allocated its budget in proportion to regional shortages of rain and water resources. He noted that small-scale farmers, particular those of previously disadvantaged status, historically battled to acquire sound irrigation schemes from the Department. He wanted to know what progress had been made to rectify this problem. Mr I Mogase (ANC) repeated the latter concern and added that dams in rural areas were neglected and derelict.

Ms Schreiner replied that the licensing system aimed to balance supply and demand for water, recognising the scarcity of this resource in South Africa. Regarding irrigation schemes there was a policy in place for subsidising small farmers. Rainwater harvesting tanks and hand operated water pumps were among the initiatives currently employed for generating water for organised farmers. Topography was a defining factor for creating resources: where the land was flat, dams were not a viable option. The dams in poor condition did not belong to the Department, but were perhaps privately owned or in possession of other Departments. She would present this matter to the co-ordinating committee of the Department.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) wanted clarification on the Compulsory Licensing system. She wanted to know what benefits derived from these licenses and whether communities or individuals applied for them. She also wanted to know whether the system regulated ground water resources and whether borehole owners required the license. Ms M Manana (ANC) asked whether townships could build their own boreholes without licenses.

Mr Seetal explained that the Compulsory License was not necessary for Schedule 1 and 'General Authorisations' of water usage. Rather, it was obligatory for large commercial enterprises and institutions with extraordinary water requirements. The license guaranteed nominal water resources to a company. This could benefit a company by attracting investments and financing. Water Users Associations may apply for licenses that want to manage a large reserve of water. Primarily, the licenses were intended for individuals. Ground water was regulated only when used for irrigation and commercial purposes. For domestic uses no license was required. In certain areas local bylaws regulated borehole use to prevent sinkholes emerging in the ground. Ms Schreiner noted that the Department had issued licenses to communities in the past.

Mr Mogase asked what the prices of the licenses were. Ms Schreiner replied that they were R114 including VAT. She noted that the Act permits the Department to waive this fee in certain cases where parties are unable to pay.

Ms Manana asked whether the Department had a time frame for self-assessment with regards to capacity building. Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) felt that not enough feedback was reaching the Department from the poor and rural communities. The Department presentations suggested a balance between water demand and supply in these areas, whereas he had received direct reports of intense water shortages. He wondered how the Department could determine its priorities without first consulting impoverished areas such as the Limpopo Province.

Ms Schreiner responded that in Limpopo there was a good relationship between the Department and communities. Through the Provincial Growth and Development Strategies (PGDS) it was hoped that provincial departments would exchange ideas and integrate mechanisms for effective management. Sometimes the Department Water Development Strategy did not 'mesh' with the ideas of the PGDS, and subsequent consultation allowed both parties a better understanding of practical applications.

Mr Ngoate agreed that the Department needed to keep a closer ear to the ground, and was willing to hear Committee suggestions how to do this.

The Chairperson asked the Department to include in its presentation a list of communities and agencies it had consulted, as it appeared to her that Members were misunderstanding this. There seemed to be general concern with the processes of reviewing the Strategy and identifying its strengths and weaknesses. She asked what statistics informed the designation for 'stressed' areas; how the Department defined equity, and whether it was confident that women were benefiting chiefly from the Strategy.

Ms Schreiner said that Departmental research was informed principally by population growth and demographical statistics. The Department continually updated its statistical material, and worked with other Departments to glean relevant information. They were presently reviewing their pricing strategy that was unchanged from 1999. This had only sought extraction fees. The Department was now developing a charge on water polluters to help generate finance. Mr Seetal said gender equity was a principal concern of the Department, but he admitted that 'ground level' application of goals was difficult. Ms Schreiner said that gender-based incentives would be attached to future issuing of Department subsidies.

The Chairperson asked what 'new items' were contained in the NWRS and what financing plan the Department proposed for the Strategy. She urged the Department to incorporate measures for 'co-ownership' of the NWRS in order to advance equitable allocation and sound capacity building.

Ms Schreiner replied that a new item was the Compulsory Licensing system. Catchment Management Areas (CMAs) were developing successfully along the Komati River, and the Department hoped to have a classification system for water resources operational within a year. Their budget was stretched and ideally they could use more funds for building dams and pipelines. For developing economic infrastructure, the Department used its own budget, and for social development it required funds from the exchequer. The Department formulated five-year scenarios using Internal Strategic Perspectives (ISP). Longer-term developments, such as the building of dams, a 10-20 year procedure, had to be planned cautiously, because volatile global climate patterns affected the sustainability of projects.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked how the Department mapped out its ground water resources. In Oudtshoorn a purifying station services outlying boreholes and he wanted to know whether facilities where ground water supplements surface water were prevalent throughout the country. He also asked if the Department integrated their planning with other departments, such as the Departments of Public Works and Transport.

Mr Seetal said a survey had just been completed of South Africa's ground water reserves. This integrated information from over 200 000 existing maps. Where surface water was unreliable the Department made 'conjunctive use' of ground and surface reserves. Water Availability Models were devised by Hydrologists to track the cycle of rainwater. The Planning Directorate used these models. He added that South Africa was breaking new ground internationally, with its development and implementation of Compulsory Licensing.

Mr Ngoate replied that the Department was always seeking to capacitate community participation in development. Through the Integrated Development Plans (IDP) communities could vocalise their concerns with Department service providers. The Department has a directorate for stakeholder empowerment that hears community and stakeholder interests. There is room for improvement within this directorate, and for upgrading archaic communication systems in rural areas.

The Chairperson asked if the Department saw any future legislation flowing out of the NWRS. Ms Schreiner responded that perhaps a few amendments would occur to the Act, but nothing substantive. She noted that the Department was no longer involved in the delivery of water services; this was now the task of local government.

Ms Ndzanga asked if there were license requirements for building dams. Mr Seetal responded that dams were a safety risk and, depending on the size of dam, regulations did apply. Dams under a carrying volume of 10 000 cubic metres needed General Authorisation. He invited communities to approach the Department's regional offices for advise and possible assistance in the matter.

The meeting was adjourned.

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