Water Use Licensing

In 1998, the National Water Act (36 of 1998) (hereinafter referred to as the Act) was introduced and provided a legal framework for the protection of South Africa’s water resources.

The new legislation recognised the fact that water is a scarce and precious resource and should therefore be protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable fashion, and that the national government, acting through the Minister of Water and Sanitation, is the public trustee of the nation’s water resources.

A lot of new definitions and conditions were introduced when the Act came into effect. This created a lot of confusion on whether people should apply for a water use licence or not.

The term “water use” is frequently and erronously interpreted as only the abstraction of water from underground or from a surface water body for agricultural, industrial, or any other purpose. The new Act however identified several activities that should be considered as “water uses”.



Such activities are stipulated in Section 21 of the Act, and is listed below:

a. taking water from a water resource;
b. storing water;
c. impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse;
d. enganging in a stream flow reduction activity;
e. engaging in a controlled activity;
f. discharging waste or water containing waste into a water resource through a pipe, canal, sewer, sea outfall or other conduit;
g. disposing of waste in a manner which may detrimentally impact a water resource;
h. disposing in any manner of water which contains waste from, or which has been heated in, any industrial or power generation process;
i. altering the bed, banks, course or characteristics of a watercourse;
j. removing, discharging or disposing of water found underground if it is necessary for the efficient continuation of an activity or for the safety of people;
k. using water for recreational purposes.

Therefore, if any person aims at commencing with any of the activities stipulated above, which is not within the parameters of a Schedule 1 water use*, they will need to apply for a Water Use Licence or General Authorisation in advance.

* A Schedule 1 water uses outlines the permissible use of water where a licence is not required, and is applicable to all river catchments throughout the country. These type of activities are characterised as having a very small impact on water resources, and include:

  • taking water directly from any water resource for domestic use in your household if you have lawful access to that water;
  • storing and using run-off water from a roof;
  • small gardening that is not for commercial purposes;
  • watering animals for subsistence use;
  • using the water surface or surrounding land for recreational use (for example boating);
  • using water for emergencies for example for human consumption or fire fighting.