Water Use Licence Applications: Why Public Participation Is So Important

Water resource governance in South Africa


All water uses according to the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) need to be authorised and this is enforced by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). The National Water Act is a legislative document that has become the bedrock of the nation’s approach to water resource governance.

The National Water Act is not merely a legal document; it is a visionary roadmap that strives to balance the needs of a growing population, expanding industries, and the preservation of our ecosystems.

From the banks of rivers to the taps in our homes, this comprehensive Act lays down the framework for ensuring the availability, quality, and sustainability of water resources for present and future generations.


Have you ever wondered how your voice can shape the future of water governance in South Africa?


How can your active involvement in the Public Participation Process (PPP) contribute to building a more inclusive, transparent, and sustainable approach to managing
our precious water resources?

This article outlines all aspects of the PPP undertaken (including your voice) for Water Use Licence Applications (WULA) with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

The PPP is a legal requirement to fulfil the WULA in terms of Section 40 of the National Water Act, 1998 (Act no. 36 of 1998).


What is the purpose of the National Water Act?


Before we can detail the PPP, it is paramount to ensure that the PPP meets the requirements of the National Water Act.

The purpose of the Act is to ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in ways which take into account factors such as;

(a) Meeting the basic human needs of present and future generations;

(b) Promoting equitable access to water;

(c) Redressing the results of past racial and gender discrimination;

(d) Promoting the efficient, sustainable and beneficial use of water in the public interest;

(e) Facilitating social and economic development;

(f) Providing for the growing demand for water use;

(g) Protecting aquatic and associated ecosystems and their biological diversity;

(h) Reducing and preventing pollution and degradation of water resources;

(i) Meeting international obligations;

(j) Promoting dam safety;

(k) Managing floods and droughts, and for achieving this purpose, to establish suitable institutions and to ensure that they have appropriate community, racial and
gender representation.


Procedure for Public Participation


The procedure for public participation, as amended on 24 March 2017, outlined in section 41(4) of the NWA (https://www.gov.za/documents/national-water-act-regulations-procedural-requirements-water-use-licence-applications-and), is a vital aspect of water use licence applications. This robust process ensures transparency, inclusivity, and adherence to regulatory standards.



The main objectives of Public Participation are to:


1. Inform the surrounding public of the water use(s) being applied for and the main details thereof.

2. Provide sufficient and accessible information to Interested and Affected Parties (I&APs) in an objective manner, over the 60-day public participation period.

3. Document the above findings in a format fully compatible with the requirements for a water use license application (which is to be submitted to the Responsible Authority (RA)).


These objectives meet the requirements of the PPP and include informing the public through an advert placed in a provincial/national Newspaper or official gazettes, Notice board, Written
Notices and using alternative methods as approved by the RA.

These Notices should be placed in English (ideally) in a visible public space and include the following details regarding the intended water use:

– Applicant name

– Project location

– Nature of the activity

– Water resource and Application volume

– Legislative requirements

– Public Participation period

– Contact details of the consultant to encourage the opportunity for written objections, enquiries and comments from the public.


Who should be involved in the PPP?


The Notices should be made out to various stakeholders, including owners, occupiers, municipal councillors, organs of state, land claimants, and other interested parties. A register with names
and contact details of participants during and after the licence consideration period needs to be maintained which will be reported on in the PPP Report. This register refers to the interested and affected parties (I & APs).


The PPP concluded, now what?


After the PPP is concluded, the PPP Report is then submitted to DWS in Phase 3 of the WULA.
DWS can take the comments and concerns raised during the PPP period into consideration when assessing a WULA.

These comments are used to make site-specific licence conditions for the Licensee to ensure that the licensed water use activity does not impact the activity of any other surrounding groundwater or surface water users. When a licence is granted, it is still subjected to all applicable provisions of the National Water Act (act 36 of 1998). The responsibility for complying with the provisions of the water use licence is vested in the Licensee and not any other person or body.


Purpose of the Public Participation Process


Public participation in water use licence applications is not a mere formality. It serves critical purposes such as inclusivity and democracy, incorporating diverse perspectives, identifying
potential issues, improving decision-making, enhancing transparency, building trust, ensuring legal compliance, and fostering conflict resolution. By engaging the public, regulatory bodies like
the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) acknowledge the importance of collective input in crafting sustainable water management solutions.

The Public Participation Process serves as a cornerstone of transparency and inclusivity, aiming to:


1. Inform Interested and Affected Parties (I & APs)

Ensuring that all I & APs have access to relevant information about the water use licence applications.

This facilitates democracy and informed decision-making by DWS.

2. Promote Diverse Perspectives:

Encouraging the integration of unique insights and local knowledge, enriching the decision-making process.

3. Identify Potential Issues:

Tapping into valuable information possessed by the public to identify potential issues or risks.

4. Build Trust and Understanding:

Establishing trust by demonstrating a commitment to open dialogue and consideration of public input.

5. Ensure Legal Compliance:

Adhering to legal public participation requirements ensures the regulatory process aligns with applicable laws.

6. Foster Conflict Resolution:

Providing a platform for addressing concerns and potential conflicts early in the decision-making process.



Make your voice heard when it comes to water use in South Africa

GEOSS provides a comprehensive service that combines legal expertise, public relations, community engagement, and administrative support for public participation processes. Your participation in the water use licence application process is paramount.

Your voice adds depth to the decision-making process, ensuring that the management of South Africa’s water resources is transparent, inclusive, and sustainable. As you actively contribute to shaping the future of water governance, remember that every comment, concern, and suggestion plays a vital role in building a resilient and water-conscious nation.

DWS could request that Monitoring Reports be compiled and submitted to DWS as a Licence condition.

The importance and effect of Monitoring Reports will be discussed in an upcoming article.


Written by:


Groundwater Authorisation

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