Water Research Commission scientists are urging collaboration after the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment found that 82% of South Africa’s river ecosystems are threatened and 44% are critically endangered, say Water Research Commission aquatic ecologist Dr Jackie King and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research water governance specialist Dr Harrison Pienaar.
“We need to bring together the considerable energy and willingness of our water professionals to collaborate, as well as the drive of our politicians for service delivery and strong participatory governance.
“We have the skills and knowledge to achieve our vision of developing and using the country’s water resources in a truly sustainable and fair way, but the effort is presently uncoordinated, scattered, sometimes contradictory and often misunderstood and misused,” said the two main authors of the book Sustainable use of South Africa’s Inland Waters: a situation assessment of Resource Directed Measures, launched in July.
The book indicates the urgent need to complete water resource classification for the whole country, as it is the only measure the country has to achieve a negotiated and equitable distribution of water, find the right balance between resource use and resource protection and provide a firm foundation for the compulsory licensing of water resource use and compliance monitoring.
The authors also pointed out the need to include conservation planning in the national planning agenda, or face the danger that most water resources could be classified under Management Class 3, with immense negative implications for biodiversity.
A Class 3 water resource is heavily used and the overall ecological condition of that resource has been significantly altered from its predevelopment condition.
Other points of action include the swift completion of compulsory licensing after classification is complete, as required by the National Water Act (NWA), 36 of 1998, capacity building in the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and a realignment of scientific endeavour to best help water managers make the new system succeed.
“During the review process, which resulted in the new water law, it was acknowledged that implementation of the NWA would be neither quick nor easy; worthwhile endeavours of this magnitude seldom are.”
The authors pointed out that it would be important for the DWA not to fall prey to frustration and impatience. This could lead to injudicious amendments to the NWA, which is internationally acknowledged as one of the best of its kind, simply to make the implementation more achievable in the short term.
South Africa has shown many times in many ways that its people can work together to solve intractable problems and could do so again with the right leadership, the authors said.