Gauteng and NW Province

South Africa must act fast to protect its water source areas

South Africa’s water future can only be secured if we act fast to protect the integrity of the ‘crown jewels’ of the country’s water resources in the form of a handful of catchment areas located in mountainous areas around the country.

“We need to act now to ensure the right measures are in place to protect them. We need to focus on our water source areas if we are to create a legacy for water security,” says Christine Colvin, senior manager of WWF-SA’s Freshwater Programme.

She adds: “If the spend on our engineered water infrastructure (an estimated R700 billion over the next 15 years) is to bear fruit and deliver services, we also need to invest in protecting ecological infrastructure – the water source areas that feed our dams.”

Colvin is the co-author of a report by WWF South Africa and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research which has mapped out the country’s key water source areas.

The Sanlam-funded report, entitled ‘An introduction to South Africa’s water source areas’, found that as little as 8% of South Africa’s land area delivers 50% of the river run-off which supplies major dams and interbasin transfer schemes.

These fragile catchment areas are therefore natural water ‘engines’ that drive water supply to the majority of the country, including economic hubs, farms and industrial facilities.

Says Colvin: “Although many of the source areas are remote, only 16% are formally protected. We need to act fast to protect their integrity.” Among the issues highlighted in the report is the risk of coal mining in the Enkangala and Mpumalanga Drakensberg source areas. WWF-SA has called for no coal mining in these areas because of their strategic significance for water supply.

Colvin explains: “In these high water yield areas the risk of acid mine drainage (AMD) associated with coal mining is extreme and could result in massive downstream pollution.

“It’s like cutting the heart out of the living landscape that provides us with water. We have many choices when it comes to power, but water (whilst renewable) cannot be substituted with anything else.”

On the good news front, Colvin adds: “We have seen, in the headwaters that feed the Berg River Dam, that catchment management can be achieved and pays-off for downstream users. This area, previously covered in alien vegetation and forestry, has been cleared and natural fynbos restored. The landscape is now more resilient to fires, floods and drought and delivers good quality water to the dam.”

Visit to read the full report on South Africa’s most important water source areas, as well as the overlap of coal reserves.

WWF-SA’s interactive mobisite,, shows urban dwellers where their water comes from. You can locate your town or city and find out which water source areas feed your water infrastructure.

13 November 2013


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