Water Allocation

Abstraction permits, compulsory licensing and water-use authorisations are methods to determine and monitor water use and allocation. A typical licensing system requires a custodian of water resources who determines the allocation of these resources. This approach has been adopted and incorporated in policy in recent years. Licenses and permits can be used as a tool for controlling water use, promoting equity and protecting environmental flow requirements (Scholes and Biggs 2004). As physical monitoring and data gathering on water use activities is expensive to undertake and repeat on a regular basis, information gathered during licensing is often used in water use estimation.

A license to use water is issued by a responsible authority, to which a prospective user must apply. A permit is only granted after all water demands, including the environmental water demands, have been determined for a particular river or water resource to the extent possible. The demands are then compared with the reserve (the allocatable amount of water available). The reserve equates to the environmental flow and is defined as “any water which is purposefully left in a river by restricting use or releasing water from an impoundment with the objective to maintain a river in a desired condition” (Scholes and Biggs 2004). All users are required to adhere to any conditions outlined in the permit and the responsible authorities of each country are required to enforce these conditions.



In Botswana, the Water Apportionment Board (WAB) is responsible for the administration of water use licenses and rights. All major water abstractions from surface and groundwater resources must be approved by the WAB. The WAB is also responsible for controlling pollution and for approving all new boreholes and dams. Applications for the right to water is made to the WAB through the Director of Water Affairs (Water Registrar) (Kgomotso 2005).



The Water Law 16/1991 classifies water uses as common and private use (Ibraimo 1999). Common use is defined as domestic uses such as drinking water, watering of livestock, and small scale irrigation without alteration of the flow or banks of the waterbody. Common use is exempted from licensing while all other uses, defined as private use, requires permitting under the Water Law.

Land users around lakes, lagoons, and wetlands may use riparian water, subject to conditions established in their land use title unless the volume dictates a license is required (Ibraimo 1999). Rainwater may require licensing if it exceeds the limits specified. During droughts, floods, or other natural disasters, common water use may be restricted under the Water Law.

The Water Law 16/1991 currently does not have regulations in place to implement the licensing of water for private use in Mozambique (Ibraimo 1999).


South Africa

There are three types of water use authorisations as outlined in the National Water Act 1998 (NWA) and Chapter 3 of the National Water Resource Strategy, 2004:

  • Schedule 1 Uses: relatively small quantities of water, mainly for domestic and stock watering purposes;
  • General Authorisations: limited water use is conditionally allowed without a license; and
  • Water use licenses: which are used to control water use that exceeds the limits imposed by Schedule 1 and General Authorisations.

As noted above, with Schedule 1 and general authorisation exemptions, water licensing is required in South Africa for quantities exceeding that specified in the legislation and for non-domestic use.



Zimbabwe enacted the Water Act 31/98 in 1998 along with other African riparian countries in the 1990s. Water use related to subsistence production is exempted from licensing. Although this includes a large number of informal rural users, it is unknown how many informal users there are that should require a permit (van Koppen et al. 2008).

Chapter 20:24 of the Water Act prescribes all commercial use of water requires a permit in Zimbabwe which is administered by the catchment council (LBPTC 2010). Commercial use is defined as any water use other than for primary use which is water consumption at the household level.

Water Use and Allocation presents water use in the Zimbabwe portion of the basin assessed from the breakdown of water distribution permits.

As water is a scarce resource in the Limpopo basin, the economic value of water is important and is further discussed in the chapter The Value of Water.

Silalabuhwa Dam, Zimbabwe. Source: Schaefer 2010


INYANKUNI DAM, ZIMBABWE.. Source: Schaefer 2010


Managing an Unpredictable Resource

Interview with Dr. Amy Sullivan (AS), Limpopo Basin Focal Project by IPS - Inter Press Service (Hanson Tamfu)

Date: September 4, 2009

The water available in the Limpopo River basin, which stretches across Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe and Mozambique, is both in great demand and highly variable. Managing it effectively and to the satisfaction of all users is a challenge.

Dr. Amy Sullivan is the project leader of the Limpopo Basin Focal Project. Her job is to study how to reduce poverty through better water management. Fourteen million people live within the basin's catchment area - in Botswana, fully 60 percent of the population is dependent on its water.

Sullivan was interviewed by Hanson Tamfu (IPS) about the project on the sidelines of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network's regional dialogue in Maputo.

IPS: How are water rights are allocated within the Limpopo basin?

AS: Water rights are a national issue. In theory we have four legal systems operating in the basin which covers four countries. Water is generally considered a God-given right and human right, but when used on a larger scale, governments have to step in as a legitimate regulator. In South Africa and Mozambique water allocation is under the Catchments Area Authority units in each country. Unfortunately, this is often conducted in isolation of agriculture and tends to affect water management as a whole.

For management to be really effective, there must be integrated planning. Each of the countries has a system of permits attribution for large-scale commercial users. Then at the extreme end, we have the household users, and in between them the small-scale farmers who are actually regulated only on paper but not in the field. And this is where the problem lies. Policies may be excellent on paper but the implementation on the ground is lacking.

IPS: So the small-scale farmer is neglected so to speak?

AS: The small-scale farmers are actually living in uncertainty because they do not have any formal rights. There is a tendency of increasing regulation in this sector and secured rights and the small-scale farmer is being left out. These inconsistencies have rendered him more vulnerable.

IPS: How much water is being used within the basin?

AS: I cannot say how much water is being used in the whole basin. But there is over subscription in some areas. By this, I mean that if you combine priority use, agricultural use and environmental flow, you will realise that there is too much pressure on the water resources.Water availability is highly variable and it is difficult to predict how much will be available in a given period. There is therefore very little scope for expansion of water use activities.

IPS: Would you say that allocation is satisfactory?

AS: Certainly not. There is bound to be competition because of this unforeseen situation of water. Upstream, somebody is battling to use more just in case something happens tomorrow. We can only seek redress by working with the various systems to ensure that the legislations in place are adequately implemented.

IPS: So should water use be reduced or increased?

AS: I think there should be redistribution not increase or decrease.

South Africa is currently undertaking water allocation reforms. Producers will have to increase their efficiency. Some irrigation schemes are only 40 percent efficient. This will mean planting more improved variety of crops and adopting better irrigation technology. In fact, there is actually a lot of room to increase water use efficiency without necessarily taking away anyone's water.

IPS: You have talked a lot about inefficiency: how is this manifested?

AS: Inefficiencies are strategies by farmers to reduce risks. This can take many forms; adopting certain technologies and certain crops. In this case bigger growers are more prepared for risks than smaller ones who may not have bank accounts, high yields and reserves.

IPS: Is the situation the same in all the countries covered by the Limpopo River basin?

AS: Common issues within the basin are low water productivity and institutional inefficiency.

In Botswana, however, competition for water resources is high. The basin is dryer there and 60 percent of the population lives within the basin. This is because of the increasing urbanisation, which leaves little room for agriculture.

In South Africa and Zimbabwe, there is a tremendous deal of uneven development amongst the commercial and emerging farmers. The needs and the support of various groups are different.

IPS: From all these, what prospects do we see for the basin which has so much at stake?

AS: There is positive room for productivity from available resources.

The other side is trying to achieve much in a very unpredictable environment. I mean what is happening around the globe in terms of climate change, financial and economic crises and much more.

A country which crafted a development plan 15 years ago would not have foreseen what is happening today.

Source: All Business 2009

Current ongoing initiatives.

LIMCOM's current ongoing interventions being undertaken