The promulgation of the National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998) saw a change in the legislative framework governing the use of water in South Africa.
For the first time the Act recognised the need to integrate the management of water quality and quantity through the need to promote efficient, sustainable and beneficial water use in the public interest.
The Act, in section 21, clearly defines the water uses to be controlled and the different methods of disposal of winery waste water are dealt with as follows:
1. Sec 21(e): Engaging in a controlled activity as defined in terms of section 37(i) of the Act, namely the irrigation of any land with waste or water containing waste from an industrial activity (Sec 37(1)(a));
2. Sec 21(f): Discharging of waste or water containing waste into a water resource;
3. Sec 21(g): Disposing of waste in a manner which may detrimentally impact on a water resource; and
4. Sec 21(h): Disposing in any manner of water containing waste from, or which has been heated in, any industrial or power generation process.
The Act, in section 22, goes further and defines a permissible (legal) water use as a water use that is:
1. Exercised in terms of schedule 1 of the Act;
2. A continuation of an existing lawful water use as defined in section 32, or declared as such in terms of section 33 of the Act;
3. Generally Authorised in terms of section 39 of the Act;
4. Licensed in terms of section 22(5) of the Act; and
5. Exempted from the requirements of a licence, by the responsible authority, in terms of section 22(3) of the Act.
The responsibility for complying with these legal requirements lies solely with each individual water user, in this case the wineries. The Department has adopted a co-operative enforcement approach as opposed to a confrontational one in order to assist the different water users in complying with the legal requirements. However, the Department will take legal action where the water user(s) wilfully or negligently violate the requirements of the Act.
Over the last number of years the Department has placed more emphasis on the need to treat industrial waste water for re-use as opposed to the mere disposal of the waste water. The Department is therefore also currently developing a Waste Discharge Charge System as an economic instrument to ensure that the cost of the disposal of waste water is internalised. This will encourage the improved management of waste water production through the implementation of cleaner production technology and water conservation measures. It is unfortunately true that the basic principles of water management, namely measuring the quantity and quality of water used and waste water produced, has been severely neglected in the wine industry in the past.
The Department has therefore been supportive of and has more recently become directly involved with, the research being carried out under the auspices of Winetech in the development of an Environmental Management System for the wine industry. The Department is also encouraged by the steps taken by Winetech in publishing the following two guideline documents.
1. Preliminary sampling and monitoring guide for waste water and soil; and
2. Preliminary EMS implementation guide.
These documents will be of huge value to the industry to give them guidance on the implementation of a successful monitoring system as a forerunner to a complete Environmental Management System.
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry will therefore continue to work closely with Winetech and the wine industry at large to ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner as required in terms of the National Water Act, 1998.