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Research: KSA 1

(KSA 1) Water Resource Management

Scope : Nothing is more fundamental to life than water. Not only is water a basic need, but adequate safe water underpins the nation’s health, economy, security, and ecology. The strategic challenge for the future is to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water to meet human and ecological needs in the face social inequities, competition among domestic, industrial-commercial, agricultural, and environmental uses.

In this new cycle’s plan, numerous interactions with stakeholders have resulted in effecting the following new aspects:

  • Water resource challenges are not necessarily new but can be viewed in different combinations each year and with newly-defined priorities towards the achievement of the new ‘Measurable Performance and Accountable Government Delivery Outcomes’. Competition over scarce or inequitably allocated resources can lead to tension and insecurities.

  • Strategies for reducing demand, increasing efficiency, and creating new sources of water resources from desalination, fog harvesting, targeted recycling, reuse, artificial recharge, etc., can be viewed as part of Outcome 6: ‘An efficient, competitive and responsive economic infrastructure network’, which relates directly to water resource assessments, planning and de-velopment of infrastructure. Output 4: ‘Maintenance and supply availability of our bulk water infrastructure’, relates to these pertinent aspects.

  • The fully-fledged thrust on water quality has been necessitated by the increasing challenges on ecological functioning and biodiversity of these resources, potentially threatening public health, agricultural and industrial production and ultimately quality of life.

  • Water Resources and Climate Change is a new thrust which is aimed at dedicating financial and human resources to coor-dinating and promoting research in this pertinent and increasingly growing portfolio. This thrust is envisaged to make sub-stantial contributions to the Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 in South Africa in 2011.

  • The thrust dealing with water resource protection has redesigned its programmes to be complementary to the new Water Quality thrust.

As South Africa progresses into the 21st century, its water resources are likely to be subjected to much greater pressures than in the past. Projections of population increases mostly in urban areas, aging of the national water resource infrastructure, significant water quality problems in our estuaries and surface water resources and groundwater can have a significant impact. An example of one of the national issues of concern is acid mine drainage (AMD). Moreover, global environmental change, including climate change, will have further potential deleterious effects on systems, resources and society. Ensuring that the appropriate policies and overall institutional arrangements are in place will be essential in the passage to better environmental and public health, sustainable economic growth and ultimately quality of life.

The bulk of the research in this KSA is in support of Outcome 10: ‘Environmental assets and natural resources that are well protect-ed and continually enhanced’. Output 1: ‘Enhanced quality and quantity of water resources’ is largely supported by Thrusts 1, 2 and 3. Thrust 4 is in support of Output 2: ‘Reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, climate change impacts and improved air/atmospheric quality’.

The implementation of policies guiding related interventions has thus far yielded variable successes. This could be attributed to a number of reasons: the lack of appropriate capacity; the decline and fragmentation of data to be used in decision making supported by intelligent information systems (in support of the imminent decentralisation of decision making); and the increased impacts on ecosystems and their functioning due to the need for economic growth with limited capabilities for enforcement of penalties and incentives for compliance. The need for leadership in defining feasible organisational arrangements to ensure effective implementation of policies is heightened. There are specific roles for research in addressing the above challenges, mainly in commissioning relevant and appropriate research of an applied and fundamental nature in support of the above strategic outcomes.

In this KSA, it is acknowledged that the categorising of water issues in narrow thematic domains has the danger of not reflecting the inherent complexity of managing water resources in an integrated manner. The kinds of challenges mentioned above are typically not solved by narrowly-focused solutions. This is focused in the research portfolio which is aimed to reflect a considerable degree of integration between the different thrusts, without duplication.

People-centred policies that govern the management of water resources, reflect the need to explore innovations based on social theory and practice, in order to better understand stakeholders’ collective role in better managing our water resources. The related research dealing with social sciences will need its fair share of investment in coordination with other related and specialised institutions.

Integration of sectors, disciplines and institutions must go hand-in-hand with coordination for action. Integration in water resource management requires, for example, integrating surface water and groundwater resources in assessment, planning, decision making, upstream and downstream issues, local, regional and international scales, water quantity and water quality, and data and information systems, at the appropriate temporal and spatial scales. The fundamental research challenge is that this is much easier said than done.


The main objective of research in this KSA is to provide the water resource management tools for addressing the above challenges, fundamentally driven by increasing water scarcity in the face of increasing and competing demands, all of which have social, economic and environmental consequences. This therefore necessitates proactive, innovative, scientific, technological and institutional experientially-based solutions. A better understanding of water resources and their management requires a more holistic conceptual framework encompassing regional-scale hydrologic systems, land-atmosphere interactions and the biogeochemical cycles that control contaminant transport. This unit operates in five thrusts, the management of which is specifically designed to meet this need. These thrusts inevitably have areas of overlap, which are described below in their respective scopes. Holistic approaches to water resource management are particularly pertinent in this area of research and must take account of all sources of water from quality, quantity and accessibility perspectives.

These objectives are achieved in support of the desired impacts on the lives and health of people, on the economy and on the environment, as articulated through the new Government performance outcomes.

In view of the above, the thrusts have been revised to allow for full articulation of water quality issues as well as climate change aspects. ‘Resource protection’ has been changed to ‘source protection’ in line with international practice.

Video Clip:

KSA1 Thrusts and Programmes 2013


Thrust 1: Water Resource  Institutional Arrangements
Thrust 2: Water Resource Assessment and Planning
Thrust 3: Water Quality Management
Thrust 4: Water Resource Protection
Thrust 5: Water Resources and Climate 


Designed By: Ceenex