Use the water or lose it, Edna Molewa tells farmers, mines

A proposed law that will allow the department of water and environmental affairs to reallocate large amounts of water not used by hoarders such as farmers and mining companies will be a “game-changer” for the country’s scarce water supply, Minister Edna Molewa has said.

Addressing reporters in Pretoria this afternoon, Molewa said the National Water Policy Review, which has been approved for public consultation by Cabinet, would force sectors including agriculture and mining to either use the water allocated to them or lose it.

The use-it-or-lose-it principle would apply to existing lawful users such as farmers, mining companies and other sectors that hoarded water allocated to them and in effect “holding back growth and South Africa’s ability to create jobs”, said Molewa.

The review proposes that lawful hoarders be given a period in which they either use the water or face it being reallocated by the minister to other users.

Referring to the agricultural sector, which is predominantly white, Molewa said while the proposal seemed “drastic”, the plan had nothing to do with the colour of the skin of any groups.

She said 98% of the country’s water was already allocated to various industries and municipalities, and that of this, 62% was allocated to agriculture and most of the cubic litres of water were being kept from use by other sectors that required water.

The intention was to allocate water to everyone that had applied for water supply but could not get it from the department.

She said the department usually asked municipalities that had a dire need for water to ask farmers and mining companies to supply them with water.

Molewa said the issue of hoarding water had restricted development in South Africa and drastic measures needed to be taken to reverse the situation.

She made an example of the department of human settlements, which was forced to withdraw plans for two housing projects because of a water shortage in Limpopo. In the same province the department of mineral resources could not issue two mining licences because there wasn’t enough water for the mines.

Molewa said this was unacceptable because many people in Limpopo, who are lawful water users, were keeping stockpiles of water and selling it themselves to municipalities and other sectors.

“There are new (mining and housing) developments and this (water hoarding) is just holding this country back on jobs. The lack of policy holds back the country’s ability to grow because there are many mining and human settlement developments which are always proposed, but we have to say to them, sorry, we aren’t able to help you now,” said Molewa.

She said large amounts of water could be freed up by the new policy to supply municipalities and industries that required water to operate.

“We’re talking huge volumes of water that are not utilised, but we’re a water-scarce country. We need to free up the 98%.”

The new policy would see the establishment of a public trust managed by the minister, as custodian of the country’s water resources. It would reallocate water if hoarders had not used their allocation within a specific period.

The proposal also introduces a ban on all water trading between authorised water users.

The time frames for how long a sector can keep stock piles of water would be determined in the 30-day public consultation process, said Molewa.

The chief director of water regulation, Deborah Mochotlhi, also warned that if the proposal became policy, the agricultural sector “may have to reduce their consumption”.

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