Posted on 15 Jun 2022

A question often asked by the general public – Why do I need to apply for Water Use Authorisation or a Water Use Licence if I am not using water?


In terms of Section 21 of the National Water Act, 1998 (Act No. 36 of 2016), there are eleven (11) activities that constitutes a water use, and requires regulatory approval or registration from the Department of Water and Sanitation, prior to the commencement of the activities:

  • Section 21 (a): Taking water from a water resource: These activities include any abstraction of water from a water resource. Example: Borehole abstraction.
  • Section 21 (b): Storage of water: Raw water containment facilities. Example: The storage of water abstracted from a borehole in a reservoir.
  • Section 21 (c): Impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse. This includes the construction of water within the regulated area of a watercourse. Example: Construction of a residential development within 500 m from a wetland.
  • Section 21 (d): Engaging in steam flow reduction. Example: Plantation or forestry related activities that consumes large amounts of water e.g. Eucalyptus
  • Section 21 (e): Engaging in a controlled activity identified as such in section 37(1) or declared under section 28(1) of the NWA. Example: Using treated wastewater from a package plant for the irrigation of landscaped areas.
  • Section 21 (f): Discharging waste or water containing waste into a water resource. Example: Discharging treated wastewater from a package plant into a river or wetland.
  • Section 21 (g): Disposing of waste in a manner which may detrimentally impact on a water resource. Example: Conservancy and septic tanks for sanitation management.
  • Section 21 (h): Disposing of waste in a manner which contains water from, or which has been heated in any industrial or power generation process. Example: Discharging water that has been heated by an industrial process into a water resource.
  • Section 21 (i): Altering the bed, banks, courses or characteristics of a watercourse. This water use activity usually ties in with the Section 21 (c) water use activity.
  • Section 21 (j): Removing, discharging or disposing of water found underground if it is necessary of the efficient continuation of an activity. Example: Removing water from underground mining areas to ensure the safe continuation of activities
  • Section 21 (k): Using water for recreational purposes: Example: The use of surface water for fishing activities or other recreational sport.


There are four (4) main types of authorisations associated with Section 21 water use activities, namely:


Schedule 1: Note: The relevant Catchment Management Agency (CMA) may limit the taking of water in terms of Schedule 1:

  • Water use for reasonable domestic use by the household.
  • Gardening on a small scale (not commercial or agricultural purposes_
  • small gardening (but not for commercial purposes)
  • Livestock watering (certain exclusions e.g. feedlots do not apply)
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Emergency use (fire-fighting purposes)
  • Recreation e.g. swimming or angling.

General Authorisation:

The General Authorisation entails the registration of a Section 21 water use to carry out an activity. The General Authorisation applies to activities below a certain threshold or considered as a low-risk activity. The relevant Gazetted General Authorisation needs to be consulted for guidance on these conditions and limits.


Existing Lawful Use:

Existing Lawful Water Use (ELU) means the use of water authorization by or under any law that took place at any time for a period of two years before the commencement of the National Water Act, 1998 (Act No. 36 of 1998).

An ELU, including the conditions thereto attached is recognised, but may continue only to the extent that it is not limited, prohibited or terminated by the National Water Act, 1998 (Act No. 36 of 1998). A licence is not required to continue with an Existing Lawful Water Use, until the Department of Water and Sanitation requires a person claiming such an entitlement to apply for a licence.


Water Use Licence

The water use licence process requires an application to be submitted to the relevant Regional Department of Department of Water and Sanitation for water use activities triggered. A processing fee of R115.00 will be charged. Once the application is submitted, the Department will undertake an assessment of the application, and make a decision based on the information provided grant or decline the issuance of a water use licence. Should a water use licence be granted, a licence with conditions will be issued to the water user.


ENVASS is in the position to assist all industry sectors as well as the general public to obtain the necessary authorisation or licences for their planned or existing activities constituting a water use. ENVASS has a qualified Environmental Assessment Practitioners with extensive experience in the facilitation of the water use authorisation process on behalf of clients within various industries.


If you require assistance to determine if your activity will require authorisation, or require a proposal for the facilitation of the process, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced consultants at ENVASS on 012 460 9768 or



National Water Act, 1998 (Act No. 36 of 1998)