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May 21, 2009

Farmers 'endangering South Africa's water security'

by Ana-Maria Udrica

Farmers illegally extracting water for irrigation are stealing 180 million cubic metres of water a year - the entire yield of the Mohale Dam in Lesotho, says Chris Herold, chairman of the South African Institute of Civil Engineers.

They are contributing significantly to South Africa's water deficit, Herold says.

Another major threat to the country's water security is that local authorities may fail to reduce water demand by the 15 percent target by 2013 - the year the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs has warned that some provinces could face a water shortage.

Estimated decline of only 1 percent a year in water demand"If we have a serious drought, the water deficit will become important. If we don't, we might get away with it," said Herold. "But we are in a crisis."

Herold said that without water theft being curtailed, meaningful water conservation and getting to the next phase of the department's water project "we will become increasingly exposed to risk failure, and when the drought comes it will be a very big problem."

Themba Khumalo, spokes man for the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, said "there is no panic" because South Africa has "sufficient water to sustain us for the foreseeable future".

Herold, however, said there could be water restrictions.

Rashid Khan, regional director of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry in the Western Cape, said that, either way, water theft and illegal irrigation were being taken seriously at legal and technical levels.

Registration is required before water may be drawn from rivers and streams, but culprits remove water illegally for commercial use or irrigation.

The registration of users is in addition to projects dealing with other issues affecting water security, such as pollution, the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, water quality, efficiency in the use of water, and reducing demand.

Herold said some of the initiatives were being hampered by shortages in capacity and too little was being done about prosecuting water culprits.

He also thought that the R50 million to R100m spent by Gauteng on infrastructure management was "not enough to cover one third of the costs required for maintenance, let alone refurbishment".

"If that is the amount the province is spending, how will we achieve the 15 percent demand saving?" Herold said yesterday.

With an estimated decline of only 1 percent a year in water demand, it would take 15 years to reach the department's goal.

Herold said: "The shortfall is with us because of water theft and our failure to achieve demand management."


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