Water use licensing

What do I need to know?
What does it entail?
General Authorisation
Tips and best practice
Validation and verification
Mandating legislation
Key contacts
Key definitions
Links to guidelines and forms
Water Use Authorisation
Who is responsible for water applications from a Government perspective?

Water use is regulated by catchment and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is the final custodian of the management of water within a specific catchment.  9 Different Water Management Areas (WMA) were identified by the DWS – a Catchment Management Agency (CMA) will eventually be established in each WMA to manage and control all the water resources in the respective WMA. 

To date (2016), only the Breede-Gouritz CMA has been set up for the Breede-Gouritz WMA.  For all other WMAs in the Western Cape, applications are made with the DWS Regional office in Bellville.  

With the impact of climate change and the recent droughts in the Western Cape, the availability of water has become one of the most important challenges faced by agricultural producers. 

Water is an important and limited agricultural resource, and accessing water in a lawful manner could be a daunting task.  Applications need to be made with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) for additional water rights - existing water rights also need to be verified with the Department. 

Follow this guide for more relevant information and assistance.  

But you may want to ask - how can this benefit me?


Unlawful water use is a huge risk to the producer –it could lead to loss of infrastructure, a fine or even imprisonment.  It is therefore advisable to correctly regulate your affairs with the DWS, as a loss of irrigation water could have severe financial implications on your business.   

Mandating legislation

National Water Act, Act 36 of 1998


Water Act, Act 56 of 1956 (repealed) 

Key definitions to understand in the context of Water Use Licensing
Water use license authorisation
Water use

The authorisation issued by the DWS for a specific water use.  It is generally referred to as a “water right” or “water licence”, although “water use licence authorisation” is the correct term. 

The specific activity that is regulated by legislation.  Typical water uses will include taking of water and storing of water as further outlined in this chapter.  

Existing lawful water use
Validation and verification (V&V)

A water use which has taken place any time during a period of two years before the commencement of the NWA, or which has been declared an existing lawful water use under Section 33 of the NWA.  

The process of determining existing lawful water uses, as further defined below:  


The process to determine whether the volume of water used in terms of the old Act is in accordance with the volume of water that is used and needed for each crop type at the time of validation. 


The process of determining and confirming the lawfulness of water uses that were exercised since the commencement of the NWA.  

Registration certificate

A certificate showing the water uses that are registered with the DWS at a certain point in time.  These water uses could be lawful or unlawful.  

Quaternary catchment

A specific sub-catchment as outlined by the DWS.  General authorisations are determined by the quaternary catchment in which a property is situated.  

Understanding the approvals needed

Any owner of agricultural land that wishes to abstract water for irrigation purposes and / or build a dam, would need approval from the DWS.  Depending on the nature of the water use, different approvals are needed – this would be either obtaining a new water use licence authorisation, registering a general authorisations and / or compliance with the Validation and Verification process of the DWS.  Further details are provided at the links: