Benefits and outcomes of effective management and protection of our water source areas
Maintenance, restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems, ecological processes and biodiversity are the most cost-effective ways of guaranteeing the water quantity and quality flowing from our water source areas. Equally, our water source areas are multi-functional landscapes that sustain and support important economic activities, which may correspondingly impact on water quantity and quality. Management of our water source areas thus requires a balance between protecting them and the ecosystem services they provide and continued human activities.
A set of principles and management outcomes provide a means to achieve this balance effectively and sustainably. These include:
- Maintaining healthy functioning riparian zones and wetlands to regulate water quantity and quality, including protecting them from adjacent land-uses with suitable buffer strips.
- Ensuring sound agricultural and soil management and conservation that supports the water cycle and minimises adverse impacts.
- Avoiding, prohibiting or regulating activities that reduce stream flow through water abstraction, such as water use in mining and irrigated cultivation or by decreasing stream flows, such as commercial forestry plantations.
- Avoiding activities that reduce infiltration including vegetation and soil degradation, hard surfacing or unwise cultivation practices
- Ensuring that activities that adversely affect water quality such as mining and discharges from untreated waste water are effectively managed and that the impacts of proposed new developments are properly assessed, avoided, mitigated or where necessary, prohibited.
- Clearing invasive alien plants to protect ecosystem structure and function and enhance stream flows.
- Restoring the hydrological functioning of degraded landscapes.
Significant benefits would arise from establishing legal mechanism and tools and ensuring proper management of our water source areas. These include:
Increased supply: Improved forestry management, clearing of alien invasive vegetation and sustainable management of irrigated agriculture will increase the amount of water coming out of our water source areas.
Improved quality: Restricting and prohibiting coal mining (and other mining), improving the maintenance and management of waste water treatment works and ensuring better management of agricultural effluents and runoffs will improve the water quality coming out of our water source areas.
Improved climate resilience: Proper management of water source areas will reduce impacts of floods (by inter alia softening catchments) and reduce impacts of droughts (by inter alia restoring and protecting wetlands and groundwater).
Decrease costs: Water treatment costs increase when poor quality water enters water treatment facilities. The maintenance costs related to water infrastructure such as dams and pipes is higher when there is high silt content as a result of erosion.
Sustainable job creation: There is a pressing need to support rural economies and provide sustainable jobs to the rural poor. The ‘Working For’ programmes have proven that landscape management can provide a sustainable source of rural employment. Legal protection of our water source areas would provide the impetus for effective landscape management of these areas, which will in turn provide opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises to service this need. Securing our water source areas will thus help to create sustainable, regenerative rural jobs and help to diversify rural economies.
Sustaining communities: Approximately 9% of South Africans live directly off water from rivers and springs. By protecting water source areas we ensure that these communities receive good quality water. Land degradation and soil erosion is not only a threat to water quality, but also a threat to rural livelihoods. Poor management of our water source areas thus reduces the capacity of land to support rural farmers and herders. Conversely, proper protection and management of our water source areas supports rural and urban livelihoods.
Protect biodiversity: Managing and controlling alien invasive vegetation, restoring wetland and river ecosystems and reducing erosion will help to preserve South Africa’s incredible biodiversity.
Benefits of protecting our water source areas
- Increased Supply
- Improved Quality
- Decreased Cost
- Decreased Risk