In the face of the department of water and sanitation’s failure to properly manage the country’s water resources, two civil society organisations have teamed up to have an independent regulator for water established.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and Water Shortage South Africa (WSSA) on Thursday announced that they have established a steering committee to engage stakeholders including government over the next two years in an effort to, among other things, depoliticise water.
After that they envisage a legislative process to establish the independent water regulator, akin to the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) Act for regulating electricity.
According to Yamkela Ntola, portfolio manager for water and sanitation at Outa, the department of water and sanitation is currently battling to fulfil its mandate.
This is evidenced by the fact that the Blue Drop and Green Drop reports about water quality have not been published since 2014. The pollution of the Vaal River by untreated sewage discharge is well documented and is currently being investigated by the Human Rights Commission.
Water pricing is unregulated and often fails to bear any relation to the cost structures. Agriculture battles to access enough water of the required quality for irrigation, which can compromise food production, while municipalities lose about 37% of their water due to leakages.
Notla says an independent regulator would be in a position to remove politics from water management and address these gaps.
According to WSSA CEO Benoit Le Roy, South Africa needs R1 trillion of investment in water infrastructure.
Private sector investors are however unwilling to put their money in an industry where regulatory and policy uncertainty is rampant and pricing unpredictable.
He says an independent regulator could unlock such investments by bringing certainty. This could result in public private partnerships (PPPs) where companies invest in infrastructure on the basis of a contract with, for example, municipalities to supply clean water for the next 20 years, much like the independent power producer contracts negotiated by the department of energy and approved by Nersa.
Le Roy says it is relatively easy to protect drinking water in South Africa in terms of the Constitution and legislation that has nationalised water since 1998. The bigger challenge is the water that supports jobs and food production, he says. In fact, 63% of the country’s water is used for food production.
Outa and WSSA say the funding of the regulator will be determined at a later stage, but it could be through a small levy and topped up by the fiscus.
The steering committee is led by Ntola and Le Roy, with the additional members being Professor Anthony Turton from the University of the Free State Centre for Environmental Management, specialist water consultant and engineer Helgard Muller and mine water specialist William Pulles.