AgriSA comments on the National Water Amendment Bill and Water Services Amendment Bill

On 17 November 2023, the Department of Water and Sanitation published the proposed National Water Amendment Bill and Water Services Amendment Bill for public comment. While the initial deadline for comments expired on 16 January 2024, the period was extended until 1 March 2024.   

The department undertook country-wide workshops to ensure that it consulted with as many water users as possible. AgriSA and its affiliated members participated in the public consultations and submitted their final comments on the proposed Bills by the prescribed due date.  

The National Water Act is an important law that plays a crucial role in ensuring that South Africa’s water resources are used sustainably and equitably. The law is designed to ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed, and controlled as prescribed therein. 

Proposed changes contained in the National Water Amendment Bill and Water Services Amendment Bill will have far-reaching implications for the agricultural sector if adopted as proposed. 

While a number of important improvements have been made in the amendment Bills, AgriSA identified certain concerns that will be included in our formal submissions to the Department of Water and Sanitation. 

AgriSA’s concerns are summarised as follows:

 1. Sledgehammer approach with respect to transformation

  • Prioritising redress of past discrimination above all other considerations in granting water use licenses is both unbalanced and unconstitutional.

  • Verification and validation and compulsory licensing should be applied properly instead.

  • Compensation must be payable where water use licenses are withdrawn or amendment to protect water source areas or where the so-called ‘use it or lose it’ principle is applied in instances where established water allocations are not used within newly prescribed time-frames.

 2. Realities of agricultural water use might have been missed

  • Agricultural land’s value lies in ability to develop water and ability to transfer water is therefore crucial.

  • Reasons for water transfers include:

  1. an ever-changing agricultural setting often determines how and when water is used;

  2. droughts and groundwater fluctuations may radically affect water requirements;

  3. seasonal crop rotations entail different water use requirements;

  4. young orchards need less water than mature trees; and

  5. the public interest is already served in that any transfer is subject to a new water use licence having to be issued by the minister.

  3. Compulsory participation in ‘one-size-fits-all’ type water user associations is not practical

 4. Further control with respect to fracking is welcomed but legislative uncertainty remains

 5. Not clear how amendments to the Water Services Act will affect water services for farmworkers

While our concerns are significant, AgriSA commends the DWS on the manner in which it included and accommodated affected stakeholders during its public consultations on the proposed amendment Bills.

AgriSA continues to further engage with the Minister of Water and Sanitation on the proposed amendment Bills and hopes to persuade lawmakers of its position with respect to certain issues that are fundamental to our affiliated membership. 

AgriSA Natural Resources

12 March 2024