South Africa faces extraordinary challenges in relation to the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Some of the pressures on our water governance system include both historical and ongoing water pollution by the mining industry; the failure of municipal water treatment and discharge of untreated sewage into watercourses; and the over-abstraction of water for agricultural purposes. All of these challenges are become increasingly acute as the country starts to acknowledge and prepare for the risks posed by climate change.
It appears that the key statutes – the National Water Act, 1998 and the Water Services Act, 1997 – either do not adequately empower authorities adequately to manage water resources, or the implementation of those statutes are failing. Some of the areas of concern identified include (by no means a complete list):
- the lack or inadequate or slow implementation of existing statutory tools and institutions, such as the water resource classification system, reserve determination, water users associations and catchment management agencies and strategies in the NWA;
- slow and inappropriate licensing and other key decisions that ignore the requirements of the NWA and other strategic documents like the National Water Resources Strategy, 2004;
- the use of procedural loopholes and shortcomings in the NWA to avoid public consultation for water use licence applications, amendments to licences and to refuse access to the Water Tribunal for appeals;
- the lack of a coherent compliance monitoring programme and a strategic enforcement programme, and severely under-resourced compliance and enforcement sections within the Department of Water Affairs; and
- the general downgrading of the political and strategic importance of water resource management and the Ministry and Department of Water Affairs.
Pursuant to its legal work relating to environmental compliance, transparency and accountability in mining as well as its work in relation to access to information on environmental management and governance, the Centre for Environmental Rights is now in a planning phase for a new cross-cutting Water Governance Project to be rolled out from 2012, in close consultation with our partner NGOs active in the field of water governance.