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Water Use Authorisation Process

South Africa's National Water Act (No. 36 of 1998) [PDF - 239 KB] replaced all previous rights to water use with an entitlement under the new Act. The National Water Act (NWA) now only makes provision for one's "right" to water, the Reserve. This is the water required to maintain the ecosystem and basic human needs. Except for the water required for this Reserve and basic human needs use, all other water uses must be authorised by the Department of Water and Sanitation or a Catchment Management Agency (CMA).

The legal framework for water use authorisation is:

  • The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
  • The National Water Act (No. 26 of 1998)
  • The National Water Amendment Act (No. 27 of 2014)
  • The Procedural Requirements for Water Use Licence Applications and Appeals (Regulation).

It is necessary to authorise water use:

  • To protect water resources
  • To promote equitable access to water
  • To facilitate social and economic development
  • To protect aquatic and associated ecosystems and their biological diversity and
  • To meet international obligations.

There are four types of water use authorisations:

Schedule 1:

Schedule 1 Water Use constitutes -

  • water taken for reasonable domestic use in a person's household from any source
  • small gardening (but not for commercial purposes)
  • watering of livestock (excluding feedlots) that graze on that land (within the carrying capacity of that property)
  • storing and using run-off water from a roof (rain water harvesting)
  • in emergencies, e.g. fire-fighting
  • recreation, e.g. swimming, angling, etc.

A Catchment Management Agency (CMA) may limit the taking of water in terms of Schedule 1 (Schedule 3(2)(e) of the Act). Water users in this category can commence with their activities without informing the Department.

General Authorisations:

General Authorisations is an authorisation to use water without a licence, provided that the water use is within certain limits and compies with conditions set out in the Gazetted General Authorisation. This authorisation requires a registration with the Department prior to exercising the water use(s).

Existing Lawful Use:

Existing Lawful Water Use means the use of water authorised by or under any law that took place at any time for a period of two years before the commencement of the NWA.

An Existing Lawful Water Use, with any conditions attached, is recognised but may continue only to the extent that it is not limited, prohibited or terminated by this Act. No licence is required to continue with an Existing Lawful Water Use until a responsible authority requires a person claiming such an entitlement to apply for a licence. If a licence is issued it becomes the source of authority for the water use. If a licence is not granted the use is no longer permissible. This authorisation requires a registration with the Department.

Licensed Water Use:

A responsible authority may dispense with the requirement for water use licence if it is satisfied that the purpose of this Act will be met by a licence, permit of other Authorisation granted under any other law. Person(s) intending to use water in this category should write a letter, attaching the relevant authorisation to request the Department to dispense with the requirements of a water use licence.

The following activities constitute water uses and require authorisation in terms of Section 21 of the NWA:

Water Use Example
Taking water from a water resource.
Abstracting water from a river or borehole for the following purposes:
- domestic use
- irrigation
- watering of livestock
- industrial
- mining
- water bottling, etc.
Storing water.
Raw water containment facilities constructed in-stream and in off-channel dams.
Impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse.
Construction of structures/facilities within surface water resources, e.g. weirs, bridges, pipelines, etc.
Engaging in a stream flow reduction activity.
Plantation of forestry species (Eucalyptus, Pine and Wattle).
Engaging in a controlled activity identified as such in section 37(1) or declared under section 28(1) of the NWA.
Irrigation with water containing waste, artificial recharge of aquifer, modification of atmospheric precipitation and in-stream power generation activities.
Discharging waste or water containing waste into a water resource.
Discharging of water containing waste into a surface water resource, e.g. discharging treated effluent into a river or a wetland.
Disposing of waste in a manner which may detrimentally impact on a water resource.
Disposal of effluent into a water containment facility, dust suppression and stockpiles.
Disposing of waste in a manner which contains waster from or which has been heated in any industrial or power generation process.
Discarding of industrial/power generation waste water or water which has been heated.
Altering the bed, banks, courses or characteristics of a watercourse.
Construction of structures/facilities within surface water resources, e.g. weirs, bridges, pipelines, etc. Introduction of unnatural characteristic to the resource.
Removing, discharging or disposing of water found underground if it is necessary of the efficient continuation of an activity or for the safety of the people.
Extraction of water from underground workings for safe continuation of activities.
Using water for recreational purpose.
The use of surface water resources for fishing, boating, etc.
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