Farmers and agriculture leaders have welcomed the decision to allow regional offices of the department of water and sanitation (DWS) to issue water licenses in a bid to fast track the process and clear a backlog of applications.
The acting director general of the department of water and sanitation (DWS), Deborah Mochotlhi, delegated the power to issue water licenses to her regional offices and to catchment management agencies on 16 February 2021 to fact-track applications for water use licences.
Janse Rabie, Agri SA head of natural resources, says this is one of the key strategic measures to speed up the turnaround time for the finalisation of water use licence applications from 300 to 90 days.
“The delegation allows for low risk and low volume applications for water use licenses to be finalised in the respective regional offices of the DWS, as opposed to such applications having to be dealt with in Pretoria only. Applications that are of national importance and that pose a high risk to water resources will continue to be dealt with at the DWS’s head office,” he said.
Rabie says that expedited water use licensing processes was identified as a key reform towards unlocking economic growth in South Africa.
He said the DWS’s delegations were crucial in this regard. Rabie also stated that Agri SA is pleased that the acting DG decided to sign into effect the critical delegations to fact-track applications for water use licences.
“Agri SA welcomes this critical step by the DWS towards the fast-tracking of water use licensing applications. We hope that, as the largest user of South Africa’s water resources, the agricultural sector will benefit from this development.” He thanked the South African Association of Water Users’ Associations, in particular Mr Nic Knoetze, for their work in this regard over the past two years.
Meanwhile Leon Groenewald, principal hydrogeologist at mining and exploration consulting firm SRK Consulting, says delegating the power to issue water licenses to regional offices will speed up the process and give the farmers more freedom.
“All the bigger water licenses previously had to be signed off in Pretoria, so it was quite a lengthy process. Now the regional offices are allowed to sign the licenses off and it will be a quicker process.”
He points out that getting legal authorisation as a water user also allows a farmer to strengthen the risk profile of his business, as it may become difficult to sell or redevelop the property if the entity is not fully compliant with the National Water Act (NWA).
Groenewald also explains that being in possession of a water license determines the volume of water you are allowed to have on your property. But you need to do a water assessment to see if surrounding groundwater users will not be impacted.
The water licensing system is a way of monitoring how much water is being extracted and ensuring that the local water sources aren’t depleted. “If you don’t have a water license and you extract large volumes of water you are extracting it illegally,” he says.
Bernie van den Heever, the owner of Tamarak Mango Estate in Clanwilliam who has been waiting to receive a water license for over two years, is excited that the process to attain water licenses is being sped up.
“I am busy trying to buy new property and I want to build a big dam on that property and fill it with flood water in winter so that I can develop the farm. I need a water license for that and permission to build the dam from the department of water affairs,” he explains.
“I am quite aware of the lack of capacity or the lack of will from the department of water and sanitation to do their job, because I put in an application to license my boreholes a while back. I have been waiting for two years and two months already. That is way past 300 days and there is just no answer coming from them,” an exasperate Van den Heever said, welcoming the news that approval of water licenses can now be dealt with at regional level.
However, he has his reservations about the Western Cape regional offices which have let him down in the past.
“If it is still in the hands of the department of water affairs in the Western Cape, I’m not sure if we are moving forward because the people in the Belville office are not doing their job either. Their lack of service to their community creates a lot of uncertainty and prohibits the progress of farmers.
“We cannot move if we do not get the licenses and we cannot develop further if the structures that need to support us are not doing their jobs,” he says.