Illegal Water Use and Trading of Water Rights: department briefing

Water and Sanitation

20 September 2006
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

20 September 2006

Chairperson: Ms C C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Trading of Water Use Entitlements in Terms of the National Water Act, 1998 PowerPoint Presentation

Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement: The Way Forward, an Integrated Approach PowerPoint Presentation


The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry made two presentations. The first was on the trading of Water Use Entitlements which included the legislation under which trading takes place, as well as what trading had taken place since 2001 in South Africa. The second dealt with compliance and enforcement of the Water Use Entitlements and gave a broad look at how this was being accomplished, what challenges it presented and what cases had already been dealt with. The Committee asked for clarification of where the major problem areas were, how monitoring was effected, what penalties were in place for illegal users and details of the department’s restructuring process.


The Chairperson opened the meeting saying that it was the last for the term. The water use briefing follows on from all the other briefings during the year but focussed specifically on illegal water use.

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) presentation

Mr P Pretorius (Director: Water Abstraction and Instream Use) started his presentation by explaining his job title. Instream use refers to forestry, storage and recreational use of the water along the length of a river. He gave a briefing on trading in terms of the National Water Act, 1998. The presentation ran through the legal framework in which trading takes place, including the Act and DWAF’s trading policy. He explained the importance of trading in Integrated Water Reform Management (IWRM) and how Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) was achieved through water trading. He also commented on the challenges experienced in water trading and tabled the statistics of water traded since April 2001.

Mr Nigel Adams (National Manager: Compliance and Enforcement) outlined what compliance and enforcement were with regards to water use. He explained the difficulties involved in implementing these two facets and what solutions they had come up with. Emphasis was placed on rapidly dealing with illegal users which was typically slow in the past. He showed various cases from around the country which highlighted lessons learnt and successes in the programme. He listed the challenges that the department faced which were principally related to human behaviour. He emphasised that they did not want to ‘re-invent the wheel’ but wanted to build on existing structures by aligning their processes with existing ones. He showed the roll out time frame for the new structure and the various ways in which compliance and enforcement could be enhanced.

The Chairperson thanked the department and said that issues regarding forestry would be dealt with at a later stage. She opened the floor to questions.

Mr J D Arendse (ANC) asked how changes in the amount of water being utilised by a user is monitored and if there are any cases where there is a reduction in water use without trading.

Mr B G Mosala (ANC) asked what the difference is between political interference and normal oversight.

Ms J A Semple (DA) asked how a water license is transferred if it was obtained prior to the Act coming into effect. She pointed out that Mr Adams worked with the ‘Organised Crime Unit’ and not with ‘organised crime’. She also asked how they decided which cases should be followed up, in other words, which cases qualified as extreme cases.

Mr Pretorius answered that there was no capacity for monitoring lawful and unlawful water use. Trading normally reduces the amount of water that would be used, and this should be monitored but is not. Existing lawful users continued with their permits, with the condition that they were lawful water users in the two years before the Act came into effect (1996 to 1998). If water is traded, they must quantify the amount of water that is utilised.

Mr Adams answered that normal oversight would be when Members sit in on prosecution proceedings, but interference would be when politicians tried to influence a case. Extreme cases are those that have a high impact and are high profile. They are reported by ‘champions’ in the field.

Ms Semple asked if there was a number that people could call to report unlawful water use.

Ms S Maine (ANC) asked if the trading statistics could not be divided into provinces for greater clarity on where most trading is taking place. She had personally seen in the Taung floods that some farmers with private dams had opened them when they were full, thus damaging the land downstream. Was there an update on this case?

Mr I D Mogase (ANC) commented on Mr Adams’ presentation which stated ‘enforceable’ although considering it was an issue of dealing with people, it should say ‘reasonably enforceable’.

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) asked if there is a penalty for water users who do not use the amount of water specified in their permits, and if so how this is determined. She was concerned that only extreme cases were followed up and that a large number of small cases would add up to a large amount. It appeared to target the rich. On a personal note, she sold a farm in 2003 and is still being billed for the water after three years. She asked if the Land Claims Commissioner could advise DWAF on water use. She also asked for an update on the Phalaborwa mine water case as it had been going on for many years.

Mr Adams said that he would make the toll free number for reporting crimes available. Ms Van der Walt’s personal problem was a customer service issue and if she provided the details, he would follow it up himself. The regional office was dealing with the Taung case but progress was slow due to delays in obtaining the satellite images. This can take up to a month but is necessary to assess the status before and after the flood. He thanked Mr Mogase for his comment. A Heat Model, developed in Stellenbosch, was used to prioritise cases and those with the largest impact were prioritised. They target everyone, not just rich people. He had no information on the Phalaborwa case but would update the Committee at a later stage.

Mr Pretorius added that the statistics could be disaggregated but that this would be difficult. Most trading takes place in the Free State and Northern Cape where there are a variety of conditions along the extent of a river. The Western Cape is fairly stable. With regards to penalties, a person must pay for the volume of water they buy, and must use it, not sell it. This was, however, not monitored. There is a registration problem in the office which could be the cause of Ms Van der Walt’s billing problem. This would be rectified. They had received many similar complaints. The Land Claims Commissioner could only help for verified claims as these are published and they would otherwise not be aware of them.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) asked if unlawful licences were confiscated and if there are penalties for this. She asked what happened to water boards that did not comply.

Ms M S Manana (ANC) said that in the last oversight visit to the Inkomati River, there were many complaints of illegal connections. The officials and councillors did not even know about ‘the Blue Scorpions’. Do they have regional offices? She asked about the time frame for verification in Mpumalanga and if there was an illegal dam that farmers interfered with.

Mr P H K Ditshetelo (UCDP) asked how the difficulty in identifying transgressors was overcome.

Mr M W Sibuyana (IFP) asked how they could provide people with access to water from Klaserie Dam.

Ms Semple asked whether, since the water use could not be quantified, misuse was only detected when something went wrong downstream. She asked in what areas there were verification problems and what Mr Adams meant by a “straw dog” in the methodology section of his presentation.

Mr Arendse asked what the time frame for redesigning was and whether the unit always informed possible transgressors when inspections were going to be made.

Mr Mosala asked what steps were taken against DWAF officials involved in water crimes and what challenges this presented.

The Chairperson asked how the unit is linking with the rest of DWAF. There were many problems with water quality reported at the public hearings, and this is a problem in many sectors. How is equity in trading initiated and is this the domain of the department? The number that Ms Semple requested is available in the department’s annual report. The Portfolio Committee tabled reports in Parliament but they were often “misplaced”. Vandalism occurred in all municipalities; were there any preventative measures? In light of the review of willing buyer/willing seller by the Department of Land Affairs, how did DWAF fit into this? They would like feedback on the West Coast issues such as people selling water from a dam and preventing workers from using the water. What can be done to avoid a water-war between countries as a result of water sharing across borders like South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

Mr Pretorius said that land claims must be dealt with first; these are negotiated and are not their field. Quantification is done by proxy using satellite imaging amongst other things. It is policed by Water User Associations. The Department always tries to do co-operative governance with other departments.

The Chairperson clarified that she wanted to know about co-operation within DWAF, not between departments.

Mr Pretorius continued that there was a restructuring process to re-look at how branches interacted. The department was currently divided into branches of policy and regulation and implementation by regional offices. Internal discussion was promoted by project-based work and consultation between branches. Equity in trading is accomplished by the introduction of a government subsidy for historically-disadvantaged individuals. Mindsets must be changed. For trading, the buyer must be in a position to use the water and this is a problem in stressed catchments. The ‘willing buyer/willing seller’ principle is part of the free market system and is problematic in land claims because farmers asked very high prices for their land. It is different for water trading as the water must be used beneficially and the buyer must be able to use it.

Mr Adams said they were looking at ways to solve cross-border water crimes. When an inspection was done, according to the legislation, they did not need to give notice if it is done at a reasonable time. They can seize any relevant evidence. They work with the Water User Associations and often told them in advance so that they could gain access to the property. In the Free State there had been a case of DWAF officials being bribed. There were regional co-ordinators but they used existing offices. They wanted to create a new structure for regional work. The “straw dog” was used because a year ago there was nothing in place. Verification occurred in all areas, but they are starting in known hot spots. He does not deal with water services personally, so he would pass on the complaints to the relevant water boards. He made it clear that people should not be scared to phone and report water crimes even if they wanted to remain anonymous. As for time frames, there was a three-year roll out plan.

The Chairperson thanked the department and stressed that they must involve the water service providers. She worried that compliance cannot only be brought about by incentives as this would be exploited as it had been in the clothing industry. She thanked Mr Adams in particular for his presentation as he was currently on leave. The Committee’s concerns would be included in its report on the department’s Annual Report.

The meeting was adjourned.



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