The draft policy on Integrated Water Quality Management (IWQM) – published by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) on 10 March 2023 – signals that a new age of partnership is called for if South Africans are to have sustainable access to water.
Lindsay Shand, associate partner and principal environmental geologist at SRK Consulting, highlights that the draft policy recognises how the country’s water quality is deteriorating – and that this is having consequences for human health and the economy.
“We can no longer rely on a water licence or contract with a water provider to be certain of actually receiving water of an appropriate quality,” says Shand. “Furthermore, water quality compliance monitoring is no longer just a tick-box exercise; it is a necessary measure to ensure that all water users within a catchment receive usable water – or understand the water quality risk and utilise the water for a suitable purpose.”
The draft IWQM policy places increased responsibility on all water users to take responsibility for their water use and water quality management.
“The draft policy follows a risk-based approach, and emphasizes a catchment management approach, which aligns with water stewardship, making it more relevant and necessary than ever – to ensure that businesses, industries and mines are more cognisant of their water management,” she says.
Water stewardship, through the associated standards of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), guides companies in managing aspects such as water governance, metrics, site risks, catchment risks, quality targets, strategies and performance.
She argues that the draft IWQM policy is significant for its recognition of the multi-faceted water challenges being faced by the country. The DWS has said that deteriorating water quality in rivers, streams, dams, wetlands, estuaries and aquifers is reducing water availability – as more water must be retained in the river systems to dilute polluted streams to acceptable standards.
“In the light of these challenges, the draft policy aims to enable government to partner with civil society and the private sector in addressing the issue of water quality across the country,” she explains. “We as a society need to take a much greater responsibility for our water management, to preserve this precious resource for the current as well as future generations.”
The draft policy recognises that managing water quality is complex and requires an integrated and sector-wide approach, she says. The DWS is also emphasising that the success of this approach is highly reliant on co-operation and collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders.
“Development, advancement and upliftment of all people places responsibility on every individual – at home and in the workplace; in this instance, it requires all individuals to carefully manage water use and quality,” argues Shand. “If we do not all take care of this finite resource through responsible use and pollution management, we will suffer the consequences of our actions.”
She points to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 – on Clean Water and Sanitation – as another important indicator of the effect society is having on water systems and the environment.
“This SDG includes the monitoring of our water resources, which provides a tool to tracking and understanding the changes that are occurring,” she says. “However, data takes time to be captured and to provide an indication of that change – and may often come too late for the required action.”
She notes that SRK’s water stewardship team of AWS-credentialed specialists has been working with clients to help them better understand their water use and management needs. This has created a foundation for businesses to build more resilience into their operations, ensuring that they can continue to operate in the knowledge that shared water resources are well managed.