24 June 2009
South Africa is to embark on a number of programmes to conserve and diversify its water sources this year. These will including desalinating sea water in coastal areas, and increasing effluent recycling.
There was a real danger that areas of the country could run out of water in the next few years, Water and Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica told a media briefing in Cape Town this week.
“We are a water scarce country, and our water resources are finite,” Sonjica warned. “We cannot afford an uncoordinated programme of blue-sky water-thirsty projects.”
The minister said the government would ” engage with mining and industry to ensure they do something to recycle the water they use,” adding that her department would act “harshly and decisively against defaulters”.
New legislation to establish the specialist “Green Scorpions” environmental crime-fighting unit, which will include the “Blue Scorpions”, a unit to tackle water-related crime, is almost complete, while environmental courts are expected to be established in South Africa within eight months.
“One of our big issues is to enforce compliance with the law,” Sonjica said. “The prospect of a single enforcement unit, from the possible integration of the ‘Blue Scorpions’ and ‘Green Scorpions’, will strengthen our resolve against wrongdoers.
“We will ensure, through the ‘polluter pays’ principle, that behaviour such as pollution and illegal water use do not go unpunished.”
Sonjica said that a very important part of water security was infrastructure development, and that the department would spend about R30-billion over the next five to eight years on the continued construction of 15 mega water resource infrastructure projects.
This would increase the capacity of South Africa’s existing water resource infrastructure to provide water to strategic installations such as Eskom, Sasol and the mining sector, as well as for domestic needs.
She added that the government would intensify its public awareness programmes on the value of water, as well as its aims of curbing water losses by at least 20% by 2014.
Focus on agriculture
Sonjica said it was still being determined how much water agriculture, which accounts for about 62% of South Africa’s usage, was wasting, as well as how much water was being illegally extracted.
“We need to quantify the impact of this,” she said. “We are engaging farmers so that we can have a mutual understanding of how to deal with the matter. This is not an easy process. It is a difficult situation, and there is a lot of hostility.”
She added that the department was also looking closely at the issue of single-purpose dams, some of which were allocated within communities that had no ready access to water.
“We have completed studies in areas like Taung, and we are ready to re-commission the dam so it can be used to also benefit the community. We will do this throughout the country, where such needs exist,” she said.
“Another point that we are looking at is how good water is being used by golf courses to sprinkle their lawns, while some communities do not have any water. Water needs to be used as effectively as possible in this country,” she said.