Molewa: Focus on water equity

2012-05-16 20:08

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Cape Town - The government is pushing ahead with plans to create "equity" in the distribution of water resources, water affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Wednesday.

"We have now deemed it necessary that an equity enforcing mechanism be developed, which should focus particularly on access, or lack of it, to safe drinking water by poor historically-disadvantaged communities," she said.

Briefing the media at Parliament ahead of debate in the National Assembly on her department's budget, Molewa said this was an area that had "suffered neglect" over the past 18 years.

However, there was a problem because 98% of the country's water was already allocated, which made finding water for new users difficult.

"If you need to allocate additional water... for domestic use, then you have to... find it from allocated users."

Entitlement holders

But you could not simply take this already-allocated water. In terms of the Water Act, allocated users had water-use entitlements, including the right to sell their entitlements.

"There are entitlements by holders and it therefore becomes difficult to re-allocate, given these entitlement holders' ability and right to sell.

"So you need some mechanism that really somehow reverses this practice, especially with regard to the selling of the entitlements."

Currently, entitlement holders were registered as water users. The department could also allocate water using the licence process.

"But we have been doing this for quite a while. It still doesn't continuously give you additional water... it doesn't give you what you need to re-allocate.

"This is why, in some areas, developments are at a standstill waiting for allocation of water. Those entitlements are with [other users]. We can't allocate what is already allocated.

"So clearly we need some mechanism. This we are thinking very hard about. What we know is that it's going to end up with some amendment of the legislation that we have, to allow this process to happen."

Major changes

In April, Molewa signalled there would be major changes to policies and laws regulating water use. She said it was necessary to carefully consider developing "a national redress and equity water strategy" to help the poor access quality water and sanitation.

Currently, the agriculture sector consumes most (62%) of the water allocated in the country, with a further 27% allocated for domestic use (23% for urban and 4% for rural areas) and 2.5% for mining.

The industrial sector is allocated 10%, including 3.5% for industries, 2% for power generation and 3% for afforestation. Each sector pays different rates for water.

Molewa said at the time that her department was reviewing the National Water Act, the Water Services Act and the Water Research Act.

On Wednesday, she said her department had made "serious inroads" into reducing the backlog of applications for water-use authorisations and licences.

"We have finalised 1 049 applications by means of our backlog application project," she said.

Also on Wednesday, the department said illegal abstraction of water by farmers remained a huge problem in some parts of the country.

Water losses

According to water affairs chief operations officer Trevor Balzer, in the Upper-Vaal catchment alone farmers illegally abstract about 180 million cubic metres of water a year, with an estimated value of R66.4m.

He said the agriculture sector would not necessarily be targeted when it came to re-allocation of water to support development in disadvantaged communities.

Some municipalities were experiencing water losses as high as 30% or 40%, and this would be tackled first.

- SAPA

Read more on:    edna molewa  |  environment
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