Repository logo

Water resource management in South Africa.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



South Africa is a semi-arid country virtually surrounded by water, yet fresh water is a scarce commodity and much of the population is currently without potable water. Water is the essence of life and a renewable resource that changes through the hydrological cycle. The 1996 Constitution produced a new framework for water legislation in South Africa, culminating in National Water Act, 1998 and the Water Services Act, 1997. This study assesses the change in the approach to water resource management brought about by these Acts. In addition, the Water Research Act, 1971 was reviewed. This legislation introduces an holistic approach of integrated water resource management that recognises mutual dependence of water and land management at local catchment level to ensure sustainability. Water is also no longer divided between private and public sectors, but is deemed to be a national resource under the trusteeship of the State for the benefit of present and future users to ensure the Constitutional right of access to sufficient water. Additional important features include: recognition of the hydrological cycle; the concept of a Reserve; change of institutional responsibility from national to catchment management with associated cooperative governance and public participation; receiving water quality objectives of the individual resource; and demand management approach to water supply. Implementation of this approach is through a two-tier strategy, namely a national water research strategy and catchment management strategies for each d efined water management area, that will Iink to the water services development plans. The national strategy filters fundamental principles to each catchment strategy, focusing on the water resource as well as potential pollution sources. In turn, each catchment strategy will provide information for input into the national strategy and water resource information system. The water services development plan will provide data for the water services and water resources national information systems, as well as the catchment strategy. However. the National Government policy of providing basic water services free may hinder the financial sustainability in effectively providing this function. These strategies and plans are part of a planning process that requires review and progressive improvement and change according to the changing needs of both the resource and society. The institutions responsible for driving this process are the catchment management agency for the catchment strategy and the water services authority for the water services development. Overall the approach to water resource management in South Africa is based on classification of river systems: determination of the reserve; international obligations; and equitable and sustainable allocation of the remaining resource through licensing and registration. Although integration and sustainability are complex issues, the Acts provide a competent framework for the link between water resources protection and water services provision. Success and sustainability of water resources management in South Africa is dependent on cooperative governance, integration of environmental factors, public participation and education, administrative compliance and financial capacity.


Master of Laws in Environmental Law. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2003.


Theses--Law., Water resources development--South Africa., Water--Law and legislation--South Africa.