In South Africa, 1,2 million hectares are under irrigation. With most of the Water Management Areas (WMAs) facing a deficit in water availability, how do we ensure that each crop gets a drop? The DWS requires all water users to measure, monitor and report their use. Why? Because we need to know how much we are using so that we can know what is left to use and plan accordingly. We need to be prepared when drought strikes.

The recent WRC-initiated national roadshow on water use measurement – “To measure is to know” –prompted interesting and insightful discussions, and debates, among stakeholders in the irrigated agriculture sector. Presentations on regulations by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), flow measurement and the legislative side of water resource management were part of the workshop programme. Various suppliers of water measuring equipment and instrumentation showcased their products and shared their expert advice. The Berg River IB, Hex River IB, Vaalharts Water, and Orange-Riet WUA gave presentations on their implementation plans and management systems.

All nine workshops were well attended, and positive feedback was received. Its added success can be attributed to the enthusiastic involvement of the South African Association for Water User Associations (SAAFWUA) and their eagerness to improve and maintain effective and sustainable management of the country’s stressed water resources. Through collaboration with various Water User Associations (WUAs) and Irrigation Boards (IBs), AgriSA, SAAFWUA the Inkomati Usutu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) and the Breede-Gouritz CMA, the roadshow was able to reach water users in all nine Water Management Areas.

It was clear that many people were not familiar with the water use legislation, let alone the roles of a WUA and SAAFWUA. Luckily Nic Knoetze, the CEO of SAAFWUA shed some light on these topics. He also shared some information on the progress with the establishment of CMAs and WUAs and explained the water management (authority) hierarchy in South Africa. Some of the concerns among the users included:

  • the payment of the devices,
  • accuracy of devices,
  • self-registering devices,
  • why DWS is not supporting infrastructure maintenance,
  • if DWS regards sluices as measuring devices,
  • the progress on validation and verification, and
  • the question about non-complying users outside the boundaries of IB, WUAs and functioning CMAs.

Apart from the regulatory requirement by DWS, the installation of measuring devices is recommended to manage water losses and improve water use efficiency and water productivity. The latter can also be achieved with good planning in terms of crop water requirements and irrigation scheduling. Since the allocation is volumetric, a larger area can be irrigated with the same volume of water is used more productively.

Good practice and ideas suggested from these workshops included the following:

  • Growers making use of information sessions such as workshops, well-informed consultants and this website to educate themselves on water legislation, the latest available technology and methods improve their water productivity
  • Using remote sensing of irrigated fields and crop factors to determine irrigation requirements.
  • Wall-to-wall WUAs for all water users, surface as well as groundwater, to be better informed and under the wings of a water management authority
  • Thorough homework (talk to other WUAs/IBs who already have good systems in place) before installing measuring devices and implementing water management plans.

Considering the rate at which the population is growing in South Africa, as well as the threat of recurring droughts, it is imperative that we use our water resources responsibly and economically.

Let us not wait until the well is dry to know the worth of our water; let us measure so that we can know and plan accordingly.