Implementation of National Water Resource Strategy: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

02 June 2005
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Meeting report

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
3 June 2005
IMPLEMENTATION OF NATIONAL WATER RESOURCE STRATEGY: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department PowerPoint presentation on Progress in National Water Resource Strategy implementation

SUMMARY
The Department explained how the National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) fitted in with the National Water Policy (1997), the National Water Act (1998) and the National Water Resource Strategy (First Draft 2005). Members were informed about progress made in water management during the 2004/2005 financial year.

The Committee raised concerns around issues of groundwater and alternative sources of water; funding for dams; monitoring of funds in municipalities; accessibility to water in densely populated areas; verification of water users, and validation of water pricing. Members were concerned about staff capacity, as well as exit and retention strategies. They wanted to know how the strategy related to the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) of poverty alleviation and job creation.

MINUTES

Department briefing
Mr F Ngoatje, Department Director of International Development Co-operation, stated that the objective of the National Water Act was to conserve water. There were thus catchment management strategies for 19 areas. Feasibility studies and identification of opportunities had been conducted with Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Public consultation had been done throughout the process of implementation. Local and international water management institutions had been established. Water pricing and financial assistance mechanisms had been put in place to assist municipalities with pricing, billing and debt collection. Additional funding had gone to municipalities for drought management. Staff capacity and financing were challenges in implementing the NWRS. The Department needed the assistance of the Committee and the budget to complete projects.

Discussion
Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked whether the groundwater resource map was national. Ms B Schreiner of the Department confirmed this.

Mr Arendse wanted to know where the source/recharge of water was located. Ms Schreiner explained that recharge depended on the nature of the groundwater areas. If rainwater accumulated in the gaps between the rocks, it would recharge quickly. Fossil water was not rechargeable.

Mr Arendse asked whether there were any alternative sources of water and whether these were sustainable in times of drought. Ms Schreiner responded that with the impact of global climatic change, it was not always possible to provide alternative sources of water. More money had been made available to local governments for long-term, sustainable and supportive systems like pipelines.

Mr Arendse wanted to know whether funding was available for other dam projects. Ms Schreiner responded that feasibilty studies needed to be done before dams could be built.

Mr M Masala (ANC) asked whether the thirty Cubans recruited had added value and improved capacity. Mr Ngoatje replied that South Africa had a financial agreement with Cuba whereby Cuba would provide technical assistance to realise the Millenium Development Goals. Cubans would be deployed in rural areas over three years. The primary objective was to provide on-the-job training. The positions were not permanent. Ms Schreiner added that Cuba had more than thirty years of experience in the field, while South Africa turned out an insufficient number of geohydrologists.

Mr Masala enquired whether the Department had been losing key personnel and if they had offered incentives for retention. Ms Schreiner said they had been retaining good staff and had devised packages to retain scarce occupational classes like engineers and scientists. However, they were still losing staff.

Mr Masala wanted more clarity on developments with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). Ms Schreiner responded that the LHWP was as high a priority for the Department as it was for Lesotho. The construction of dams was linked to the domestic water needs of communities. Provincial governments had to develop strategies for the availability of sufficient water. The Water Allocation Reform Programme would result in an equitable distribution of water. It was difficult to monitor the illegal usage of water, but the civil society monitoring system seemed to work best.

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) asked why densely populated areas near catchment areas had no access to this water. Ms Schreiner answered that if dams were built, there would be more economic opportunities for local communities. Public consultation would take place before building. The challenge would lie in obtaining funding, and where and when to build. There was also the issue of resettling communities.

Ms S Maine (ANC) asked whether municipalities received additional funding for drought, and whether this spending had been monitored. Ms Schreiner replied that this had been difficult to monitor because there was a discrepancy between disaster management and water service provision at municipal level. The Treasury had given the drought funding to disaster managers and not water services.

Mr S Simmons (NNP) enquired whether verification of water users had taken place. Ms Schreiner answered that registration of water users was a resource-intensive and time-consuming process. Water users would pay for what they had registered. Free basic services would have to be redetermined by local government. Cutting off water supplies was unconstitutional and would only happen when alternative sources of water were available.

Ms September wanted to know how the Department was positioned in terms of the Millenium Development Goals of poverty alleviation and job creation. Was the Department capable of implementing their strategies? Ms Schreiner responded that they had focused on an integrated water management and conservation plan in the NWRS, and were thus ahead of the Millenium Development Goals criteria. She admitted that the high staff turnover would however impact on capacity.

Ms September enquired why more jobs had been created in forestry than in water services. Ms Schreiner replied that jobs had been created in forestry because of ‘downstream benefits’. These jobs were only sustainable while there were trees.

Ms September suggested that the Department work more closely with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on water conservation because issues like drought affected the provinces. The Committee needed to know the dates for the provincial water summits. She suggested formulating a strategy with local government to implement Expanded Public Works Programme projects for unemployed communities to clean rivers flowing through townships. She also wanted more clarity on water pricing.

Ms Schreiner said they would interact more between the NCOP and the National Assembly. No dates for provincial water summits had been set yet. They had not consulted local government about cleaning rivers through townships. She promised the Committee a report on water conservation and desalination for the Western Cape.

The meeting was adjourned.

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