Water use licensing

Water Use Authorisation
Understanding Water Licenses
What is Water Use Authorisation?

An authorisation or licence giving the holder the right to certain water uses as outlined in the authorisation.  It is issued in respect of a specific property, and may be issued to a natural or a legal person.  The quantity of allocated water use is indicated in cubic metre per year (m3/a).  

What do I apply for?

Any new water use that is not permitted by a general authorisation, require water use licence authorisation. 

"Water use" is defined broadly, and includes a number of classes.  If more than one water use needs to be applied for, an integrated licence application could be made addressing all relevant elements.  The Section 21(c) and (i) water uses generally require the specialist inputs of a freshwater specialist, as the requirements are complicated.  

Within the context of climate smart agricultural development, the relevant water uses are the following:
Definition - What is Water Use Authorisation? 

Section 21(a) - Taking water from a source

This is the most fundamental water use application, and entails the taking of water from a resource which might include a river, stream, dam, spring, aquifer (e.g. boreholes), wetland, a lake or a pan. 

Section 21(b) - storing water

Section 21(c) – impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse

When water is taken and the applicant wishes to store water on its property, an application needs to be made for the storing of water.  Every dam with a wall of more than 5 metres high, and which is capable of storing more than 50 000 m3, may pose a dam safety risk.  The dam therefore needs to be classified by DWS Dam Safety Office and dam safety licences to construct and impound water are needed.  Dam safety applications are made at the DWS' Dam Safety Office, which is seated on a National level.  Section 21(b) applications often also require applications under Section 21(c) and (i).  

This water use entails causing an obstruction to the flow of water in a watercourse, or diverting some or all of the water in a watercourse, which will eventually be returned to the watercourse.  An example of this would be the construction of temporary coffer dams, used to divert water while a bridge is being built, or the construction of a dam.  

Section 21(f) – discharging waste or water containing waste into a water resource through a pipe, canal, sewer or other conduit

This entails the discharge of wastewater directly into a water resource.  An example of this is the discharge of wastewater from a winery.  

Section 21(i) – altering the bed, banks, course or characteristics of a watercourse

This water use refers to physical changes that are made to a watercourse, e.g. to widen or straighten the channel of a river.  Alteration of the bed and banks of a river are usually required for construction and infrastructure development close to a river.  An example of a situation where this authorisation would be required is where a pipeline crosses a river, or a bridge is built over a river.  Any activity closer than 500 metres upstream or downstream from the boundary of any wetland or estuary is also a Section 21(i) water use.  

The process

A complete water use licence application includes a motivation under Section 27 of the National Water Act, together with a complete set of forms as indicated below.  Numbers 1-4 should be completed for all applications, and the balance should only be completed if applicable.  This is only a guideline and should be confirmed with the relevant case officer at the DWS or BGCMA.  There are also a number of requirements under Section 27, which will not be explained here.  

In accordance with the “One Environmental System” principle, a water use licence application process should take no more than 300 days.  This is however not always the case - provision should be made for the process to take longer than 300 days.

the process

Letter of intent


Pre-application consultation / site visit

Gathering of information

Application via CMA

Assessment and submission by Provincial DWS

Review by National Office

Decision referred back to Regional Office and applicant