Water and sanitation

Water quality regulation and access 
Integrated water resource management 
Improving water services 
National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NW&SMP) 
National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency (NWRIA) 
Drinking water 
World Water Day and Week Sanitation 
Bucket eradication 
Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Entities




South Africa is a water-scarce country. The country has an average rainfall of 465 mm, which is half the world average and there is also a very high evaporation rate. Consequently, the potential of the country to further develop its surface water resources is limited – in fact, approximately 75%  of its exploitable surface water resources  is already being harnessed. Water and Sanitation

Untreated or ‘raw’ water supply availability is currently roughly in balance with existing demands on a national scale, but there are localised deficits and surpluses. Raw water availability in South Africa  could, however, rapidly deteriorate as demand escalates  due to both economic and population growth.

In addition, there are factors which could result in a contraction of supply, such as  increasing physical losses in municipal distribution systems, degradation of wetlands and the impact of climate change.

The mandate of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), as set out in the National Water Act of 1998 and the Water Services Act of 1997, is to ensure that the country’s water resources  are  protected, managed, used, developed, conserved and controlled by regulating and supporting the delivery of effective water supply and sanitation.

This is done in accordance with the requirements of water‐related policies and legislation that are critical in delivering on people’s right to have enough food and water, growing the economy, and eradicating poverty.

Over the medium term, the department planned to continue focusing on improving the regulation of  water quality; implementing the integrated water resource management approach aimed at the protection, use, development, conservation, management and control of water resources while supporting government’s developmental priorities; and facilitating the improved management of municipal water services.

The DWS has established a Water Partnerships Office in partnership with the Development Bank of Southern Africa and South African Local  Government Association  to assist  municipalities to package bankable projects to take to the market, focusing on projects such as the reduction of non-revenue water and water reuse.

Water quality regulation and access

The DWS enforces regulatory measures that ensure the provision of safe water and the effective management of wastewater. To this end, it implements the green and blue drop certification programmes, which are incentive‐based regulatory tools that measure the capacity and environmental, financial, technical and quality compliance of water service institutions.

The department planned to assess wastewater systems for compliance with the green drop regulatory requirements and water supply systems for compliance with blue drop regulations.

To improve equitable access to water resources, the department planned to finalise 80% of water use authorisation applications within 90 days of application.

South Africa has expanded access to water to more than 89% of all South Africans and 84% have access to sanitation services.

Integrated water resource management

In its efforts to ensure water security, the DWS planned to continue adopting an integrated approach to maintaining existing water resource infrastructure, supplying bulk water to strategic users such as large industrial companies through the Water Trading Entity, and supporting the long‐term sustainability of water resources.

As such, the department will consider the impact of climate change, the role of ecosystems, rainwater runoff and storage, the use of other water resources such groundwater and aquifer systems, water conservation and water demand management plans.

The department also planned to implement and monitor the river eco‐status monitoring programme in rivers and implement catchment plans for mine water and wastewater management.

Improving water services

To improve water services, over the medium term, the department planned to ensure reliable water and sanitation services by overseeing large regional bulk infrastructure project phases and small regional infrastructure project phases.

National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NW&SMP)

By mid-2023, the DWS was leading the initiative to develop the NW&SMP, which is intended to guide the water sector with investment planning for the development of water resources and the delivery of water and sanitation services  over the horizon until 2030, and beyond. This development is a first for South Africa.

The core purpose of the NW&SMP is to provide an overall perspective of the scope of the water and sanitation business to provide a comprehensive schedule of actions needed to address present challenges, to estimate the investments required to ensure effective water resources, and water and sanitation services delivery, as well as to facilitate effective integrated investment  planning, implementation of actions and evaluation of achievements.

The master plan identifies key actions in the water sector and allocates roles and responsibilities to all in the water sector, from the various tiers of government, the private sector and other stakeholders for the implementation of the plan.

The NW&SMP will include a list of key programmes, projects and actions to be implemented for the protection and development of the national water resources, and for the provision of adequate and reliable water and sanitation services for all citizens.  It will also address the enabling requirements, such as the institutional and legal arrangements for implementation, operation and maintenance, funding requirements and models, and monitoring and evaluation models.

National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency (NWRIA)

By mid-2023, the South African NWRIA SOC Limited Bill had been submitted to Parliament. The NWRIA is expected to leverage large-scale investments in national water resource infrastructure  that are required to ensure that South Africa has sufficient bulk water supply now and in future.

The augmentation projects, establishment of the NWRIA and interventions are intended to ensure that the supply of water does not become a binding constraint to economic growth.

They  are  also  aimed at  ensuring that challenges  with municipal water  and sanitation service  delivery are not exacerbated  by a shortage of bulk water,  as has  happened in the cities  of Cape  Town and Nelson  Mandela Bay,  amongst others.

Drinking water

In 2022, over four-fifths (82,4%) of households in the country had access to piped water either inside their dwelling or inside their yard, according to Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) Census 2022.

There is an increase in the proportion of households that had access to piped water inside their dwelling, from 32,3% in 2001 to 46,3% in 2011 and to 59,7% in 2022. The proportion of households that accessed piped water off-site (from a water source outside the yard such as a neighbour or from a community stand) halved from 17,9% in 2011 to 8,9% in 2022.

Households in the Western Cape were more likely to have piped water inside their dwelling (85,5%) compared to Limpopo, where less  than one-third (31,4%) accessed piped water inside their dwelling.  Although the national picture regarding access to piped water shows improvement over the years, there is a sizeable proportion of households in Limpopo (20,5%) and Eastern Cape (19,5%) with no access to piped water.

Households in the Western Cape (27,7%) and Gauteng (40,5%) reported the lowest proportions of water interruptions, below the national average of 48,4%. In contrast, a significantly larger proportion of households in Mpumalanga (60,9%), North West (65,2%) and the Northern Cape (65,8%) reported experiences of interruptions.

World Water Day and Week

World Water Day takes place annually on 22 March to underline the importance of fresh water.

The DWS also held the National Water Week campaign from 20 to 26 March 2023 to educate the public about their responsibility in water conservation initiatives, raising awareness  around the need to protect and conserve the country’s  water resources. The celebrated National Water Week under the theme “Accelerating Change” and urged everyone to use water sparingly to ensure water for all.


There has been an increase  in the percentage of households that used a flush toilet as  their main type of toilet facility  during this  period (+18,9  percentage points), according to Stats  SA’s Census  2022. However, the percentage of households that used a pit toilet without ventilation and households with no form of toilet facility declined during the same period, from 22,8% to 12,5% and from 13,6% to 1,6% respectively. Households  that  resided  in  more  urban  provinces  such  as  Western  Cape (93,9%) and Gauteng (89,7%) had access to flush toilets. Northern Cape still had 4,5% of households that used bucket toilets. The majority of the households in Limpopo, i.e.  more than half (57,9%), used a pit latrine with/without ventilation pipe as their main type of toilet facility.

Although 58,9% of the households in KwaZulu-Natal  used flush toilets, 28,5% used  pit latrines  with/without  ventilation pipe and 7%  used  chemical  toilets. Some households in the Northern Cape and Eastern  Cape reported no type of toilet facility, at 4,5% and 3%  respectively.

Bucket eradication

Government started  a  ‘bucket  eradication’  programme in 2012,  focusing  on projects to replace buckets with waterborne sanitation in the Eastern Cape, Free State,  Northern Cape and North West.

The  project  was  delayed,  partly  because  of  the  sanitation  function being transferred  between departments on several  occasions,  and  the programme being repeatedly transferred  between different implementing agents appointed by the different departments.

The project has also been delayed because there was inadequate engineering planning and design for the required upgrading of wastewater treatment works to receive  additional sewage  from the new household waterborne sanitation connections.

By mid-2023, all the elements of the original programme had been completed, apart from one project in the Northern Cape and eight projects in the Free State. These  were  expected  to be  completed during the 2023/24  financial  year.  In reality, the programme will not ‘eradicate’  buckets  because  municipalities are continuously initiating new bucket systems  in informal settlements.

To  address  this,  the DWS  has  developed a  National Sanitation  Framework, which  has  recently  been  approved  by  Cabinet.  In  terms  of  the  framework, the separtment planned to issue  revised  norms  and standards  for  sanitation services  under the Water Services Act of 1997,  which will make it clear that it is unacceptable for municipalities to implement the bucket system.

The planned amendments to the Water Services Act of 1997 will also enable the department to regulate and ensure adherence to these norms and standards.

Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)

By  mid-2023,  Phase  Two  of  the LHWP,  which will augment water  supply  to Gauteng by 490 million m3 and some areas of the Free State, Northern Cape and North West, was being implemented. The project will increase  water security  in the Integrated Vaal  River  System, which is the primary water resource for the Gauteng economy. The main contracts for the Polihali Dam, the Polihali to Katse  Transfer  Tunnel and the Senqu Bridge were awarded during the last financial year and contractors are on site. The estimated cost of Phase  Two is R39 billion, with the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) raising the funding in the market and it is due to be completed by 2028.


Consolidated water boards

Water  boards  were established  by the Water  Services Act of 1997  to provide support to municipalities by providing bulk water treatment and water distribution infrastructure.

The  water  boards  vary  in size,   activities,  customer  mix,  revenue base  and capacity.  Some  water  boards  provide retail  water  and sanitation  services   on behalf of municipalities. Rand Water and Umgeni Water serve largely urban areas. The rest of the water boards operate largely in the rural areas.

Rand Water

Rand Water is the largest bulk water utility in Africa and is one of the largest in the world, providing bulk potable water to more than 11 million people in Gauteng, parts  of Mpumalanga, the Free  State  and North West  – an area  that stretches over 18 000 km2.

It operates  13 tertiary pumping stations  and 60 strategically located service reservoirs  and secondary booster stations;  as well as multibillion Rand regional pipeline network of approximately 3 500 km.

In March 2023, Rand Water unveiled the new 210  megalitre post-tensioned concrete Vlakfontein Reservoir  in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, which is considered to be largest  cylindrical  post-tensioned  reservoir in the country and also  the largest circular post-tensioned reservoir in the world.

Umgeni Water

Umgeni Water  was  established  in  terms  of  the Water  Services  Act  of  1997 to provide water and sanitation services  in its  service  area,  which comprises mostly rural areas  in KwaZulu‐Natal and the eThekwini metropolitan area.  The water board supplies water to approximately six million consumers.  Its ongoing objective is to support.

Magalies Water

Magalies  Water  provides  quality  bulk  water  and  secondary  services   directly to municipalities,  mines and other industries  which in turn helps  to grow the economy and improve the lives  of communities. Raw water is drawn from the rivers which flow into dams that are owned by the DWS and Magalies Water buys the water from the department. Water from the dams is channelled to Magalies Water’s four water-treatment plants where the water is treated and made safe for public consumption. Municipalities draw the water provided by Magalies Water through the reservoir and provide it to consumers for household use.

Bloem Water

Bloem Water (formery Bloem Area Water Board) was established in 1991 with the aim to operate the Caledon/Bloemfontein Government Water Scheme as well as supplying water to the municipal areas  of Bloemfontein, Bainsvlei, Bloemspruit, Botshabelo and Dewetsdorp.

Amatola Water

Amatola Water was established in 1998  to provide bulk-water services in the Eastern  Cape.  It is committed to ensuring that the Eastern  Cape  communities have access to basic water services as this is a right enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996.

Mhlathuze Water (MW)

MW was established in 1980 and predominantly operates in the uMkhanyakude, King  Cetshwayo  and Zululand district  municipalities but has  plans  to expand beyond these districts. MW is supplied by three dominant water sources namely: Mhlathuze River,  Lake  Mzingazi  and Lake  Nsezi.   The  organisation’s  business activities  include raw (untreated), clarified  (partially treated) and purified water supply; disposal of industrial and domestic waste water and scientific services.

Lepelle Northern Water (LNW)

The  mandate  of  LNW  is  to  provide  bulk-water  services   to  water  services authorities  and  industries  within Limpopo.  It  is  actively  involved in schemes serving more than three million people as  well as  some major industrial users. LNW will continue to partner with the DWS in implementing Water Conservation and Demand Management as  well as  groundwater exploration to augment the surface water.

Overberg Water

Overberg  Water  came  into being in  1993  when the former  Duivenhoks  and Rûensveld  water boards  amalgamated.  It distributes  water to the surrounding and rural areas  of Cape Agulhas, Theewaterskloof and Swellendam. It has three water-treatment  schemes  with  22  reservoirs   which  are  strategically   located across  the Overberg region. The water board derives its revenue from the sale of bulk potable water to its main customers,  namely municipalities, as well as retail sales  to the agricultural sector/industry in the region.

The  organisation  supplies  and  distributes  approximately  four  million cubic metres of water per year.  The region currently supplied covers  approximately 6 000 square kilometres with a pipeline network estimated at 1 450 kilometres.

Other entities:

  • The Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency was established in terms of the National Water Act of 1998. The agency plays an important role in protecting, using, developing, conserving, managing and controlling water resources  in a  cooperative  manner within the boundaries  of  the Breede‐Gouritz catchment area.
  • The Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency was  established in 2004  in terms  of the National Water  Act  of 1998.  The  agency  plays  a key  role in the use,  protection and development of water resources  in the Inkomati‐Usuthu water management area,  and aims to ensure that water is used  and managed to support equitable and sustainable  socio-economic transformation and development.
  • The Water Research Commission was  established  in terms of the Water Research Act of 1971. It is mandated to conduct research in the water sector by determining needs  and priorities  for research;  promoting coordination, cooperation and communication in the area of water-research  development; stimulating and funding water research;  promoting the effective transfer  of information and technology; and enhancing knowledge and building capacity in the water sector.
  • The Water Trading Entity was established in 1983 and was converted into a trading entity in terms of the Public Finance Management Act of 1999 in 2008. The entity’s primary role is to manage water infrastructure and resources, and the sale of raw water.
  • The TCTA was  established  in 1986  as  a  specialised  liability management entity,  deriving  its  mandate  from  the  National  Water  Act  of  1998.   It  is responsible  for  financing and implementing the development of  bulk  raw water  infrastructure  and  providing treasury  management services   to  the DWS.  The authority plays  an important role in providing: financial advisory services  such as structuring and raising project finance, managing debt and setting tariffs;  project implementation services; and other technical support to the department and water boards.

Source: Official Guide to South Africa

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