In this document, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (“FSE”) submits comments on the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, draft 2.6 (the “draft plan”).


 The FSE is a federation of community based civil society organisations committed to the realisation of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being, and to having the environment sustainably managed and protected for future generations. Their mission is specifically focussed on addressing the adverse impacts of mining and industrial activities on the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities who live and work near South Africa’s mines and industries.  

 In accordance with the above-mentioned mission, the FSE’s comments are limited to matters pertaining to the mining industry. The FSE’s comments will be substantiated by real examples within the scope of the FSE’s experience and our active participation in a significant number of environmental impacts assessments, environmental management programme reports, water use license applications, environmental authorisations, steering committees, forums, task teams, teams of experts, academic research groups, boards, etc. over a period of 15 (fifteen years).[1]

[1] Kindly note that the Legal Resources Centre assisted with this publication.


 On 8 December 2017, the Department of Water and Sanitation had completed the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan. This resulted in the Department of Water and Sanitation, under Director-General Mr. Mkhize, to invite various organisations to a Departmental Cluster Working session on 2 February 2017. In terms of this invitation the FSE and the LRC will, inter alia, be making submission on the following issues:[1]

  • the Ecological Reserve and the protection of ecological water structures;
  • compliance and enforcement;
  • the independent economic regulator;
  • the role of civil society;
  • the amalgamation of the WCMA into a single centralised department;
  • you cannot drink paper plans;
  • potential water crisis exacerbated by poor management, aging infrastructure and lack of skills in the right places;
  • lack of data and information resulting from weak monitoring systems; and
  • mining.


The Ecological Reserve:

One of the founding rights in the South African Bill of Rights is the right to have access to sufficient water.[2] In terms of bringing that right to fruition, the National Water Act 36 of 1998 (the “NWA”) had created a system wherein a reserve would be determined for any major water resource. The primary concern of the reserve was and still is to establish a minimum water level needed to support life (in other words providing sufficient water to the people of South Africa).[3] The manner in which the reserve was calculated was based on two criteria, the ecological reserve and the human reserve.[4] 

Although the human reserve is critical for effectuating the right to water, the ecological reserve is the quintessential component in making sure that the right to water can exist. Without measuring the capabilities of what the aquatic ecosystem can endure in terms of human and ecological consumptions will result in a system that is unsustainable and cannot function which means water cannot be supplied in terms of the Constitution. The importance of the ecological reserve has and is recognised by the Department of Water and Sanitation (“DWS”) and was highlighted as one of the first actions to be undertaken in the second National Water Resource Strategy wherein it stated that the ecological reserve and the classification of the South African rivers will be a priority.

The draft plan deals with water ecological systems under chapter 8. [5] In terms of this chapter, the ecological reserve has only been mentioned twice and in those two instances failed to take into consideration the importance of the reserve. In terms of this, at 8.1.1 the draft plan states “this highlights the importance of using the integrated water resources management tools provided by the NWA, including the ecological reserve, the classification of water resources and the determination and implementation of resource quality objectives.” By reducing the ecological reserve to a management tool removes the constitutional element of having an enforceable right. The Departmental Cluster should take cognisance that this failure to elevate the ecological reserve could open the DWS to potential litigation. 

The second issue pertains to the failure of the draft plan in giving a meaningful programme on how the DWS is going to monitor and evaluate the ecological reserve. Although there are some initiatives, in the draft plan, on how the DWS is going to monitor water courses and systems it needs to undertake further monitoring and evaluation of the ecological reserve to continuously determine if the ecological reserve is sustainable.

The third issue pertaining to the ecological reserve in the draft plan, is the fact that there is such little mention of the ecological reserve are we to assume that the ecological reserve will be removed as a constitutional binding obligation in the new water bill? It must be stated in the white paper on Water, that the ecological reserve together with the human reserve are the only enforcing rights in the that paper. Once again the Department Cluster must take cognisance of the fact that the ecological reserve is an important component.

The FSE and the LRC however, welcome that there will be a concerted effort to increase the determination of the reserves of underground ground water and the estuaries.

Protection of Ecological Water Structures:

In terms of the Water use and environmental authorisations that are continuously given to mining companies, within legally protected areas (including Nature Reserves, Protected Environments)[6], in areas of highest biodiversity such as critically endangered and endangered ecosystems, river and wetland Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs) and Ramsar Sites, is becoming a serious issue in maintaining and protecting the Ecological Water Structures. What is important to note the reason why it is becoming difficult in protecting these sensitive areas is the fact that there are a multitude of mining application being submitted on a monthly bases in a single area. The net effect is that the impact compounds the total destruction of the area due to the number of mining’s companies together with the significance of the biodiversity features and the associated ecosystem services.[7]

 To exemplify the above we will give two examples:

Groot Marico Region:

 Environmental authorisation was recently given for the Doornhoek Fluorspar Mine project. However, there are at least 6 other mining applications for that area. To location of these applications fall under an area commonly known as Groot Marico. This area has the following important ecological water and land systems traits:

  • Greenfields;
  • An important ecotone with high species richness, a unique species combination, genetically unique populations and high intra-species genetic diversity;
  • A highly ecologically significant aquatic ecosystem, a designated priority river system (FEPA Rivers);
  • An aquatic Critical Biodiversity Area (CBA2) with the presence of the Vulnerable Marico Barb and the Near Threatened Waterberg Barb which is considered near threatened;
  • The upper reaches of the Marico River, which are in a natural or near natural ecological state;
  • The upper Groot Marico River and Tributaries are Fish Sanctuary Areas, which support three genetically distinct populations of the vulnerable Marico barb;
  • The Klein-Marico River, which present ecological status is categorised as a Class B: Largely Natural;
  • Five major wetland types;
  • The Groot Marico River, which is fed by a number of springs (eyes) within the Groot Marico Dolomitic Aquifer Compartment, an which are highly sensitive from an ecological point of view considering that many red data fauna utilize this area as a source of water and habitat.
  • The main rivers in the area have an ABA status, which means it is pristine water that is drinkable from the source.
  • The Groot Marico river feeds the Gaborone City in Botswana;
  • The area feeds the Orange River, the Limpopo River and various other small tributes. The impact of damaging this area would impact the lives of millions of people and the economy.

Mpumalanga Coal Mining:

Another example is the authorisation of water use license applications and environmental applications within Mpumalanga, a region with high agricultural potential, the highest rainfall, lowest evaporation and highest precipitation in South Africa and the source of 4 major rivers except the Limpopo. The entire Upper Vaal WMA is underlain by coal with significant acid producing potential. 

The subjoined maps show the strategic water focus areas and strategic water source areas within Mpumalanga. If these areas are declared as “no go” areas because of its water yield potential, a large area of Mpumalanga still remains to be mined (31% of the province).  Please see the third subjoined map in this regard.

Notwithstanding these considerations, the fourth subjoined map shows the number of mining and prospecting applications between 2000 and 2016. It can logically be inferred from this map that the entire Mpumalanga is under either mining or prospecting applications.

The goal of the Master Plan to protect and sustainably and equitably develop water resources and “water factories” can only be realised if the DWS, in collaboration with the DEA and the DMR, declares the strategic water focus and source areas within Mpumalanga as no-go areas.

 The rest of the document can be opened as a PDF document.

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