Water Laws and the environment

Water-A hot and important topic on all South African’s lips, particularly if you are a Capetonian.  However, severe water shortages could affect one-third of the global population by the year 2025, which will extend well beyond arid and semi-arid countries. This was reported in the Stockholm Water Conference in 2001 and the United Nations World Water Report in 2006.

Water under South African Law has gradually changed between the period of 1652 which was governed under Common Law water, to 1912 when the Irrigation Act was implemented. Then the Water Act replaced the Irrigation Act in 1956.  However, this restricted the majority of the population’s right to water as the Water Act did not replace the riparian rights.  Then the National Water Act of 36 of 1998 (hereafter referred to as “the Act”) replaced the Water Act of 1956.

The purpose of the Act is to ensure that the Nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled.

The National Government is therefore the Public Trustee of the Nation’s water resources. The National Government has to ensure that water is protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with the constitutional mandate.

South Africa’s water resources are managed nationally. However, the Country is divided into various water management areas, the management of these areas will be carried out by catchment management agencies. The management of these areas must be carried out in accordance with the national water resource strategy.

For a person to be able to use water, such person must be licensed to do so. However, there are three exceptions in which no license is required. The first exception is under Schedule 1 of the Act which includes but is not limited to water use for reasonable domestic use and watering for animals (excluding feedlots). The second exception applies if the water use is a continuation of an existing lawful use.  The third exception is in terms of general authorisation in terms of Section 39 of the Act.  This allows the responsible authority to authorise water use generally, with respect to a specific water resource or for a specific geographical area.

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