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Cape Town - “Game-changing” new policies for the use of South Africa’s scarce water resources have been introduced for public comment - including doing away with the universal free drinking water allocation of 25 litres a person a day.
If the policy changes are accepted - and the government appears highly determined to push them through - this minimum free allocation that has been in place since 2003 will in future be available only to indigent (poor) households.
Also squarely in the government’s sights is the agricultural sector, which uses 62 percent of the country’s water, and farmers will have to justify how they are using the water currently allocated to them in terms of a “validation and verification” process managed by the Department of Water Affairs.
Other major policy changes being proposed by the government include the scrapping of the right to trade water between authorised users, the application of the “use it or lose it” principle for the holders of existing water rights, the annual determination of water tariffs by the department in consultation with Treasury, prioritising “social and economic equity” in the reallocation of water, and the scrapping of the Water Users Association and the various irrigation boards.
New water utilities are proposed for nine water regions.
These are among 12 key new policy proposals contained in a National Water Policy Review gazetted last week for public comment and introduced at a media briefing by Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa on Tuesday.
These “water policy positions” come at the start of a move to rewrite the two water laws - the National Water Act and the Water Services Act - into a single “seamless” piece of legislation governing the entire water chain.
Molewa told the briefing the legislative situation created “inconsistencies” in managing the country’s water and that the proposed changes were “of great importance”.
About 98 percent of water was allocated and in terms of the legislation in place, allocations - even obvious “over-allocations” - could not be taken away from holders.
“This effectively means your child and my child born tomorrow have only two percent going into the future.”
Although a system of water licences had started to be introduced in about 2001, under the 1998 National Water Act, “there has not been a serious and effective breakthrough (in equitable allocation) since then”.
“There are still people not gainfully using that water that was legally allocated to them. The magnitude and amount of water - we know it’s there to be reallocated, but we need very clear policies.
“We need to free up the 98 percent - we can’t just sit back and say we’ll allocate the two percent to everyone else.”
The lack of water was holding back development and job creation.
Molewa cited the example of Lephalale in Limpopo province where plans for two new human settlements and two proposed mines could not go ahead because there was no water allocation for them. The mining companies had then been able to buy water from users, but the government could not tell local authorities to do the same.
“It really shouldn’t happen that way, but it happens all over the country. This reallocation has got to happen. This is holding back the ability of our country to grow… We really want to share water,” Molewa said.
Asked whether 30 days was not too short to comment on such fundamental policy changes, Molewa said they would look at how many responses there had been at the end of the period.