Government to divert irrigation water to feed Eskom

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 13 August 2010

The government will soon start issuing compulsory water licences for farmers in some river-catchment areas in a bid to divert water to other priorities, such as Eskom’s water-guzzling power stations.

There is a shortage of clean water to cool new coal-fired power stations

Licensing would begin in four of the most sensitive catchment areas “as soon as circumstances will allow”, Water and Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said at a summit in Boksburg this week.

The areas are Inkomati (Mpumalanga), Jan Dissels (Western Cape), Umhlathuze (KwaZulu-Natal) and Tosca (Northern Cape).

“In these catchments, commercial farmers must expect that their water allocation for irrigation could be curtailed,” she said.

The move starts a tug-of-war for water, much of the scarce supply polluted by mines. There is a shortage of clean water to cool new coal-fired power stations, and opposition from farmers and environmental groups, who say the state’s fossil-fuel energy plan is unsustainable.

Farmers and mines compete fiercely for water, particularly in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where most of the coal reserves are.

The government says it will crack down on illegal water use, and has set up a chief directorate to police the new licensing system.

It was estimated recently that Inkomati provides a third of the water Eskom uses. Farmers there believe that their irrigation water will be used to supplement Eskom’s supply and that they are paying for poor planning.

Sonjica did not single out Eskom as a beneficiary of an additional water supply but hinted that farmers would no longer enjoy an unrestricted supply of water.

“South Africa is a water-scarce country and the largest portion of water is already authorised for irrigation. Other sectors, such as the mines, industries, municipalities, previously disadvantaged communities and the environment are also competing for this already allocated water,” Sonjica said.

Agriculture consumes more than half the country’s water.

The water redistribution plan would probably involve huge financial compensation for farmers.

Isobel van der Stoep, of the SA Irrigation Institute, said: “Everybody has invested a lot of money in [irrigation] infrastructure, whether farms or factories. [The state has] to take that into account.”

Farm union Agri SA’s director for natural resources, Nic Opperman, said the union supported the government’s plan as long as it “remained within the framework of current legislation”.

By: Bobby Jordan
Source: Times Live

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