The department of water and sanitation has set an ambitious target of reducing the issuing of water use licenses from 300 days to just 70-90 days.
This follows the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his 2021 State of the Nation Address.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said they have put a programme in place to improve their systems, and while it might have taken three years to issue a water license, it now takes 70-90 days to finalise any new, duly completed and compliant application.
The ‘system’ referred to by Sisulu is the Electronic Water Use Licence Application and Authorisation System (e-WULAAS), which was heaped as an intervention to fast track the process of water use licence applications.
In 2015, through the system, the department was sitting with 1 514 unlicensed water use applications.
For many of the new black farm owners, it was a shock that in some of the white farms sold, land was sold separately from the water use licenses.
According to Musa Senda, Managing Director at Mabalengwe Agriculture, it was often the case with most black farmers in relation to water use license.
“The experience is almost all the same. Black farmers buy land without water rights, unknowingly so, only to find out later that they need to apply for water use license. It disturbs the farm productivity and profitability, and it is rather a sad case which the department cannot resolve alone,” he said.
Estate agents were also culpable in this act of selling farm property separately from water use license.
“Really, it does not make one iota of sense. Buying property should come with all its features. This is something the Estate Agency Affairs Board of South Africa (EAAB) had to commission – an investigation into farm estate practices,” added Sende.
Furthermore, the application of water use licenses was found to be an expensive exercise especially for farms aiming to abstract ground water. Geology and hydrology reports were requirements by the department which could set a farmer anywhere in the region of half a million.
It is unclear how the department expects to reduce the window of applying as according to its Acting Chief Director, Water Use License Administration, Ms Roxanne Naidoo, there still needs to be stakeholder consultations and educating applicants about the business process, which also may still take time.
The National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998) states that activities require Water Use Licence includes, taking of water from a resource, storing of water, Impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse, discharge of water containing waste into a resource, disposing of waste which may detrimentally impact on a water resource and altering the bed, banks, course or characteristics of a watercourse.
Minister Sisulu also announced the creation of the National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency.
“The primary objective of the Agency will be to sustain and improve the performance of all strategically important water supply systems in regions where water security is at increasing risk,” she said.