The use of General Authorisations to promote water allocation reform in South Africa

South Africa 's National Water Act (NWA) gives effect to IWRM by promoting a proactive approach to water allocation reform (WAR), while at the same time emphasising economic efficiency and ecological sustainability. Compulsory Licensing (CL) is the primary mechanism to facilitate WAR. In CL, all users are required to reapply for their water use entitlement, and a process is thereafter followed to allow for a fairer allocation of water between competing types of users and sectors. Some concerns have been raised that equity may not be achieved through the process as historically disadvantaged individuals may not have the capacity to partake in the process, or the Responsible Authority may not have the capacity to administer the large number of applications received from small scale users. GAs are proposed as a way of addressing these concerns by setting aside water for specific categories of users prior to the call for licences.

In June 2005, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) appointed Ninham Shand Consulting Services to undertake an assignment to examine the potential of using General Authorisations (GAs) as a tool to promote WAR. This paper presents the outcome of this assignment and will discuss the three methodologies developed to apply GAs in different contexts

The use of water under a GA does not require a licence and can therefore be used to authorise water to groups of individuals. They also facilitate a phased approach to implementing WAR that can be used to support CL and contribute a flexible, pro-poor approach to water allocation. The decision to issue a GA requires a balanced understanding of the importance of promoting gender and racial equity, and an understanding of the cumulative impact that several small-scale users could have on the resource and existing users.

Although not the focus of the assignment, comment will also be made on how general authorisations could provide an opportunity to “formalise” customary systems of water rights that are more communal in nature. Considering the pluralistic nature of water laws in Africa , a flexible entitlement such as a GA may assist in easing the often uncomfortable interface between customary water rights and state authority.