Written by Jodi Smook
Understanding the National Water Act: Section 27
In this article, we are going to explain the process of getting a Water Use Licence (WULA) in accordance with the National Water Act and why section 27 (motivation) is important.
Once a borehole has been sited and drilled, yield and quality testing been completed and the WULA process started, an applicant will receive the request for technical reports and supporting documentation, which the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) will assess to inform their decision on whether to approve or reject an application for a water use licence.
An application will need to be motivated scientifically, through a geohydrological assessment report, as well as socio-economically, through what is often termed the Section 27 motivational report.
WULA: What is the Section 27 Motivational Report?
The Section 27 report pertains to Section 27 of the National Water Act, No. 36 of 1998 (NWA). The section stipulates that “in issuing a general authorisation or licence a responsible authority must take into account all relevant factors” (NWA, 1998 (27)(1)) and goes on to list the aspects which are considered when making a decision to approve or reject an application.
In layman’s terms, us groundwater consultants refer to this report as the report which provides the Department of Water Affairs with the socio-economic backing for a Water Use application. Unlike the geohydrological assessment report, Section 27 considers the impact of proposed water use on the applicant, the public and society, explaining the benefits of authorising the proposed use, explaining the applicant’s responsible approach to the water use and on what grounds an application should be considered as it relates to the unique South African context and the government’s strategic goals.
To this end, when deciding on whether to issue a water use licence, the Department needs to understand the implications of the proposed water use.
The importance of Section 27 of the Water Act
As the custodian of water in South Africa, the government does not only consider whether a resource will be managed sustainably and responsibly, but it also seeks to ensure that a licensee will use the licence for the socio-economic benefit of others, in line with the strategic objectives of the government.
In light of this, the Section 27 report remains an integral part of any water use licence application and is largely part of submitting a complete and strong application for the success of an application.
Therefore, clients and consultants need to collaborate efforts and expertise, to ensure that a Section 27 report is not grounds for rejection of an application.
What needs to be included in a Section 27 report?
The NWA (1998) guides the public and private sectors on the aspects which need to be considered when compiling the Section 27 report. Furthermore, the report takes on a simple format, by addressing each aspect adequately and providing enough evidence to support the motivation.
Hence, we maintain that applicants provide as much detail as is relevant to the entity applying for the licence as possible.
A summary of the aspects to include in a Section 27 report are as follows:
(a) Existing lawful water uses;
(b) The need to redress the results of past racial and gender discrimination;
(c) Efficient and beneficial use of water in the public interest;
(d) The socio-economic impact –
i. Of the water use or uses if authorised; or
ii. Of the failure to authorise the water use or uses
(e) Any catchment management strategy applicable to the relevant water resource;
(f) The likely effect of the water use to be authorised on the water resource and on other water users;
(g) The class and resource quality objectives of the water resource;
(h) Investments already made and to be made by the water user in respect of the water use in question;
(i) The strategic importance of the water use to be authorised;
(j) The quality of water in the water resource which may be required for the Reserve and for meeting international obligations; and
(k) The probable duration of any undertaking for which a water use is to be authorised.
Guidelines from DWS on the Section 27 report
The list above might seem daunting; however, DWS has provided indicators that can be used to inform the content of the report. The report can take on a format as prescribed by the considerations listed in the Act above, and the motivation at each aspect can be based upon the indicators listed in Table 1.
Aspects for consideration
|(b) The need to redress the results of past racial and gender discrimination||
|(c) Efficient and beneficial use of water in the public interest||
|d) The socio-economic impact –
i. Of the water use or uses if authorised; or
ii. ii. Of the failure to authorise the water use or uses
|(h) Investments already made and to be made by the water user in respect of the water use in question||
|(i) The strategic importance of the water use to be authorised||
GEOSS compiles Section 27 reports on behalf of clients
GEOSS is aware that the Section 27 report is a specialised requirement for a WULA and, therefore, we assist our clients by compiling the motivational reports on their behalf. In an effort to ensure a strong motivation for a WULA, our consultants request a variety of information and documentation for the report. We suggest that marketing and human resources representatives of clients become involved in the process of sourcing and providing the necessary information so that the motivation contains the relevant content as is applicable to the entity applying for the WULA.
Read more about how GEOSS has obtained water use licences: Ensuring legal compliance for water use for a Karoo Town in the Northern Cape
What clients need to consider with regards to the Section 27 report when starting an application
Whether a client chooses to undertake the WULA process themselves or appoints GEOSS to do so, there are a few key aspects to consider when compiling the content of the Section 27 report. If the purpose of motivating an application, the socio-economic benefits and potential impact of authorising a proposed water use needs to be made clear to DWS.
Firstly, the shareholding, ownership and management of a company needs to be explained, which would include a company’s standing in terms of broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE). Further, non-discrimination on the basis of gender and race needs to be considered, along with an applicant’s efforts towards economic empowerment and the upliftment of previously disadvantaged individuals and/or women.
How will your borehole be used for good?
Corporate social responsibility projects, community upliftment initiatives and skills development and training need to be emphasised in the report. Then, a commitment to ensuring that the proposed water use will be to the benefit of the public and will be used efficiently needs to be stated.
The applicant can list how it has embarked on water-savings initiatives and what the successes have been, and how equipment or technology has been upgraded or replaced to conserve water.
Additionally, the impact of the proposed water use on job creation, skills development and training, and improved socio-economic conditions for employees and society need to be explained, with the applicant’s total investment in terms of the proposed water use(s) being highlighted as its commitment to ensuring a favourable outcome.
Access to water and the Sustainable Development Goals
Finally, the strategic importance of the proposed water use(s) needs to be explained in terms of its alignment with regional strategic objectives and objectives for sustainable development in South Africa.
If water use is taking place within the ambit of a General Authorisation, a Section 27 report is typically not required by DWS. However, once a WULA is undertaken, DWS will definitely request the Section 27 report as part of the list of documents to submit as part of the WULA.