South Africa 5.9.2013 06:00 am

Water use licences are just ‘word salads’

Image courtesy stock.xchnge

Image courtesy stock.xchnge

A large percentage of water use licences are “word salads” and of little use to government, companies or the public.

This is how water expert Carin Bosman described the majority of licences, which are intended to protect the country’s water resources. Bosman was commenting on the Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s announcement on Tuesday that she had approved a notice of intention to declare fracking a water use and therefore a controlled activity.

Fracking entails the extraction of gas after cracking open shale rock by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the deep wells at high pressure. Water contamination is a potential consequence that still needs to be explored.

“We must welcome the minister’s announcement. The idea is good, some of the conditions are good, but the execution sometimes fails us. “The quality of the licences is very poor. This year I have not seen one licence in which I could say that’s a good licence,” said Bosman.

 

The Karoo near Willowmore, Eastern Cape. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons (Winfried Bruenken)

The Karoo near Willowmore, Eastern Cape. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons (Winfried Bruenken)

 

Bosman said poor quality licences meant neither government nor the public had a way to call companies who acted incorrectly to book. “The community has no real tool which they can say to the company, hey you are exceeding your requirement,” she said.

Bosman said the quality of licences had dropped due to a backlog caused by companies not completing licences correctly and a high turnover of staff in the department. She said, for example, in a licence with 300 conditions she would find fewer than 50 to be accurate.

On Tuesday Prof Gerrit van Tonder from the Natural and Agricultural Sciences Faculty of the University of the Free State, told The Citizen that the licences were vulnerable to political influence.

 

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa announcing a decision regarding fracking in the Karoo as it pertains to water.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa announcing a decision regarding fracking in the Karoo as it pertains to water.

 

The Department of Water Affairs responded, saying it had processed more than 3 500 applications in the past two years, most of which came from the previously advantaged, and not politically connected, groups.

“The Act stipulates a number of considerations and none of those relate to political connections or connectedness,” it said in a statement. AfriForum and Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), an alliance against fracking, also welcomed the minister’s announcement but said laws needed to be strictly implemented.

“We must emphasise that our laws need to be enforced and currently there is a great lack of the proper monitoring of water licences, compliance and law enforcement,” said Julius Kleynhans, head of environmental affairs at AfriForum.

The department said it authorised water use in order to give effect to the principles of efficiency, suitability and equity contained in the Water Act.

 

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