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Get your Water Act on

Even though the Western Cape has been blessed with some rain in June, it had little impact on the dire state of the Western Cape dam levels, and the forecast for water-use in the province remains bleak.

With calls to build more dams and others queuing to sink boreholes, the Western Cape Government (WCG) has their hands full in managing water sources and addressing the water crisis. Although the building of more dams seems like a logical solution Derril Daniels, Deputy Director of the WCG’s Department of Water and Sanitation, said that there are various scenarios that have to been considered before the construction of new dams can be approved.

He pointed out that no construction of dams may commence prior to obtaining permission from the Department. “It is of the utmost importance that people familiarise themselves with the various applicable permissible water uses. People are encouraged to engage with the Department before engaging in any water use activity.”

Daniels said in an e-mail that the Department wishes to remind all that no person may unlawfully and intentionally or negligently commit any act or omission which detrimentally affects or is likely to affect a water resource (Section 151(1)(j) of the Act).

Daniels also attached a checklist (click here) that will assist water users in compiling their application.  “People should note that the Department has measures in place to ensure that we respond on Water Use Licence Application in a more effective and efficient time period.”

Daniels invited growers to contact the Department at any stage, specifically Warren Dreyer, Water Use Authorization Manager, at or (021) 941 6285 or at 082 600 8684.

Daniels also urged growers to familiarise themselves with the Water Act:

Reference is made to use of water and its permissibility as defined in the National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998).

It is of utmost importance that people know that;

  • the taking of water from a water resource (includes a watercourse, surface water (river), spring, estuary or aquifer);
  • storing of water (dams);
  • impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse (river, wetland, etc.);
  • altering the bed, banks, course of characteristics of a watercourse (including any work within the 1:100 year flood line of a river),

are but a few of the water uses as defined in the Act.


In terms of the Act, a person may only use water permissibly as follows:

  • Schedule 1 use: Meaning that a person who lawfully owns / occupies a property may take water for reasonable domestic use, water for small gardening (not commercial) and watering of animals (excluding feedlots) if he/she has lawful access to the resource, if the use is not excessive in relation to the capacity of the water resource and the needs of other lawful water users. No application for a licence needs to be made.


Note: People should be mindful of the area where they say and the restrictions or any other ordinance that are in place before commencing in any Schedule 1 water use activity. In most cases, the Schedule 1 use of people residing in urban areas is already supplied by their Local Municipality.


  • General Authorisations: The General Authorization (GA) merely allows for users / potential water users to do certain limited water related works (i.e. abstraction water from a water resource (groundwater or surface (river) water) or storage (dam) in certain areas. These areas are all in the GA that can be made available or a person can download it from the Department’s website ( Also note that this is applicable if the use is not excessive in relation to the capacity of the water resource and the needs of other lawful water users.


  •  Existing Lawful Use (ELU): this allows water use that was lawfully used in the window period before the Act came into effect to continue till Compulsory Licensing is called for. Note that the Water Use should have been lawful and it must have been exercised two years prior the promulgation of the Act.


Note: The first legal requirement that existing lawful water users were asked to fulfil under the Act, 1998 was to register their water use (existing). The call for Existing Lawful Water Users to register their commercial water use was made in the Government Gazette on 12 November 1999, in terms of Section 16(1) (c) of the Act. Existing Lawful Water Users were asked to register their water use as it actually took place, on the day of registration that was lawful in terms of the Act, 1998. Water users should know that registration of water use is not an entitlement and that the water use that was registered should still be verified.


  • Water Use Licence: All water uses that do not fall under the previous categories must be authorized through a Water Use Licence. The first step in the licensing process is the determination of the Reserve for that specific water resource. The Reserve is that quantity and quality of water that are being needed for basic human use and for the environment.


Note: Licences are issued under the Act and require approval by the Department of Water and Sanitation.

A licence does not imply a guarantee relating to the statistical probability of supply, the availability of water or the quality of water as in section 31 of the Act. A licence can furthermore be suspended or withdrawn if the person fails to comply with any condition or entitlement; fails to comply with the Act or fails to pay a charge which is payable in terms of Chapter 5 ( the Act).

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