Water and sanitation

National Water and Sanitation Master Plan
National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency
Sector regulation, compliance and enforcement
Drinking water
Lesotho Highlands Water Project
Provincial projects





Water and sanitation - Official Guide to South AfricaThe 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 enhancing regulatory measures, ensuring that infrastructure is protected and restored, and ensuring that water and sanitation services are managed effectively.

Over the period ahead, the department will continue to ensure the delivery of safe water and the effective management of wastewater through enforcing various regulatory measures and strengthening its oversight functions. To this end, the Blue Drop, Green Drop and No Drop regulatory standards are in place to improve asset management practices in municipalities.

Over the medium-term period, the department is expected to support 32 district municipalities with developing water and sanitation reliability plans and monitoring the compliance of all water services authorities with regulatory standards.  Over the same period, the department aims to ensure that 80% of applications to authorise water‐use  are  finalised within 90 days and that 963 wastewater systems  are assessed for compliance against Green Drop regulatory requirements.

In February 2022, the DWS convened a two-day National Water and Sanitation Summit, attended by a wide range of stakeholders and experts. As a result of these engagements, it has developed a thorough understanding of the water and sanitation challenges facing the country, as well as a high level of consensus regarding what needs to be done to turn the tide.

Through Operation Vulindlela, the DWS is working towards resolving 80% of water-use licences  submitted by mining companies within 90 days  down from years.

National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NW&SMP)

By mid-2022, 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-2022, the DWS was in the process of planning and implementing a range of major projects to augment national bulk water resource infrastructure.  It was also in the process of establishing the NWRIA 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.

Water and sanitation sector regulation, compliance and enforcement

The department committed itself  in June 2021 to reviving the incentive-based regulation programmes,  namely  the Green  Drop  and  Blue  Drop  Certification programmes. A total of 995 wastewater systems  were subjected to Green Drop consultative audits;  not only to detect non-compliance and dysfunctionality, but also  to  guide those  responsible  towards  improving operational  philosophies which will result in improved effluent quality.

These plants demand the merging of scientific and engineering skills to ensure that we have the capability to treat used water to acceptable water quality standards, which allows the reuse of the precious resource.

Drinking water

Tap water inside their dwellings, off-site  or on-site was  most common among households in Western Cape (99,4%), Gauteng (98,4%), and Free State (93,6%) and least common in Limpopo (69,4%) and Eastern Cape (71,0%), according to Statistics South Africa’s  General Household Survey of 2021.

Since 2002, the percentage of households in Eastern Cape with access to water in the dwelling, on- or off-site  increased  by 14,9  percentage points and those in KwaZulu-Natal  by 11,6  percentage points.  Nationally,  the percentage of  households  with access to tap  water  in their dwellings,  off-site  or  on-site increased by 4,3 percentage points during the same period.

Despite these notable improvements, access to water actually declined in six provinces between 2002 and 2021. The largest declined was observed in Limpopo (-4,4 percentage points), Mpumalanga (-4,3 percentage points), North West (- 2,2 percentage points) and Free State (-2,0 percentage points). In addition, access to water has been declining in both Eastern Cape and Limpopo since at least 2014.

On the positive side one should, however, take into account that many more households were provided with water in 2021 than two decades earlier.

An estimated 45,2% of households had access to piped water in their dwellings in 2021. A further 29,4% accessed water on-site while 12,2% relied on communal taps  and  1,9%  relied  on  neighbours’ taps. Although generally households’ access to water improved, 2,7% of households still  had to fetch water from rivers,  streams,  stagnant water pools, dams, wells and springs in 2021.

The percentage of households with access to piped or  tap water in their dwellings, off-site  or on-site  by metropolitan area, is presented in Figure 9.2. The figure shows that 98,6% of households in metros had access to tap water. This type of access to water was most common in Cape Town (99,5%), Nelson Mandela Bay (99,2%),  and  Johannesburg  (99,1%). Mangaung (92,0%)  and Ethekwini (97,7%) recorded the lowest access amongst metros.


World Water Day in 2022 was celebrated under the theme: “Making the invisible visible”, highlighting the importance of exploring ‘groundwater’ as an alternative water source. Groundwater is already the main source of water for large parts of our country, including the Karoo, Northern Cape and Western Cape, and parts of Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

While the development of groundwater sources is a local function, the DWS plays an important monitoring and regulatory role, and was expected to finalise and publish improved regulations and guidelines for the extraction of groundwater and management of groundwater use in 2022.

Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)

The R36-billion Phase 2 LHWP is aimed at ensuring an adequate long term water supply for Gauteng and the Vaal River System.  The project is  funded through finance raised by the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority and is being implemented jointly  by   the governments of Lesotho and South Africa,  through the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission and the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority.

By mid-2022, about 14% of the budget had been spent and the project is due to start delivering water to Gauteng in November 2027.

Provincial projects

The DWS  has  a number of projects  at various  stages  throughout the country. In the Eastern Cape,  the Mzimvubu Water Project  is  aimed at providing water to 750 000 people at a cost of R25  billion. By mid-2022, the designs were 80% complete and the first round of fundraising began in January 2022  through a Request for Information.

In the Free State, the department was in the feasibility stage of a R10-billion project to build a major pipeline from the Xhariep Dam to augment water supply in Mangaung. The project is planned to be completed by 2028.  In addition, the department is implementing a R1.7 billion project to upgrade wastewater treatment works, water treatment works  and water distribution networks in the Maluti-a-Phofung area. This project is planned to be completed by July 2025.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the raising  of the dam wall at Hazelmere  Dam to ensure long-term water supply to Ethekwini was expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2022 at a cost of approximately R800  million. The construction of the uMkhomazi Water Project,  which is also aimed at delivering long term additional water to the Ethekwini region at a cost of R23 billion, is expected to start in 2025 and be completed by 2028.

In May2022, the DWS officially launched the R24-billion Olifants River Water Resources Development Project, which will be implemented as a Public-Private Collaboration with mining companies, to fast-track water delivery to communities and mines in the Sekhukhune and Mokgalakwena municipalities in Limpopo by 2028. Government and the mining companies will each fund about 50% of the project, which will be implemented by the transformed Lebalelo Water Users Association.

The project is at approval stage with some of the work packages at pre-construction stage and construction is anticipated to begin by late 2022. The R1.2 billion Thembisile-Loskop bulk water supply project in Mpumalanga is aimed at addressing water supply challenges in the Thembisile Hani Local  Municipality.

The project will provide 23 Mℓ of water to communities in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. The project is planned to be implemented over a three-year period from May 2022 to April 2025.

Phase 1 of the Vaal Gamagara Water Supply Scheme, which is critical for both mining and potable water supply in the Northern Cape, cost R1,4 billion and Phase 2 was expected to start in 2022 at an estimated cost of R10 billion.

In 2022 the DWS commissioned the Moretele South Pipeline in the North West, a 60-km pipe which will be operated and maintained by Magalies Water and which will benefit the villages in the Moretele Local Municipality, including Carousel View, Dertig, Bosplaas, Mathibestad, and Makapanstad.

To increase water security in the west coast area of Cederberg in the Western Cape, the DWS had by mid-2022 resumed construction work to raise the wall of Clanwilliam Dam at a cost of R3,2  billion. The project is due to be completed in late 2026.

In addition, the department was implementing the R21-million Brandvlei Dam Project in the Western Cape, which involves the construction of a feeder canal which will provide an additional 33 Mℓ of water for storage in the dam, unlocking agricultural growth potential in the area.  Construction was expected to be completed by October 2022.


Consolidated water boards

Water boards are established in terms of the Water Services Act of 1997.  The water boards’ main role is to provide bulk potable and wastewater to water service institutions within their respective service areas. They support municipalities by providing, managing and operating regional bulk water services 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 was established in terms of the Water Services Act of 1997 and is mandated to supply quality bulk potable water within its area of supply. The water board’s distribution network includes more than 3 056 kilometres of large diameter pipelines, feeding 58 strategically located service   reservoirs, with customers including metropolitan municipalities, local municipalities, and mines and industries in and around Gauteng, supplying, on average, 3.7 million litres of water daily.

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.

Sedibeng Water

By mid-2022, the DWS was in the process of disestablishing the Sedibeng Water Board,  which was financially unsustainable, and also had governance challenges.

It was established on 1 June 1979.  It initially serviced  the Free State  Goldfields and parts  of the former Western Transvaal. In 1996,  Sedibeng Water extended its operational area to North West and also the Vaal Gamagara Water Scheme in the Northern Cape.

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 Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority 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 2021/22