Understanding the water permit and water agreement systems in Zimbabwe

A lot of water users in Zimbabwe have for sometime been failing to understand how the water permit system works in Zimbabwe. A lot of people have been asking questions on whether they need water permits or not.

For starters, water permits replaced the water rights which were provided for in terms of the Water Act of 1976. Water permits and agreements give their holders a right to use raw water from either a river or a dam.

Water permits are issued to people intending to use water from rivers while those wishing to draw water from ZINWA managed dams enter into an agreement with the Authority allowing them enjoy rights to the water.

Holders of water permits and agreements are required to pay for water use.

In terms of the Section 34 of the Water Act, “no person shall abstract water for any purpose other than primary purposes except in terms of a permit.”

The Act describes primary purposes as the reasonable of water for basic domestic human needs in or about the area of residential premises, for the support of animal life, other than fish in fish farms or animals or poultry in feedlots, for the making of bricks for the private use of the owner, lessee or occupier of the land concerned or for dip tanks.

Any abstraction or storage of water for primary purposes exceeding 5000 cubic metres also requires a water permit. The same applies to all persons who conduct operations that will interfere with the banks, bed or course of a public stream or any marshes, springs, swamps vleis forming the source, or found along the course of a public stream. This includes construction of small dams on private properties.

Why does it matter so much for people to have these permits? Water permits allow ZINWA to determine the water commitment levels for a particular catchment or zone. This allows for proper planning especially in a country which enjoys a distinct short wet season and a longer dry one. ZINWA would therefore need to determine water use patterns and water commitments so that it can plan accordingly.

Water permits and agreements also help in safeguarding the interests and allocations of permit holders. During times of water scarcity priority would be given permit holders who would be in legal use of water before new water users can be taken aboard. For example in times of droughts when water levels in dams drop to critical levels, agreement holders will have their allocations safeguarded ahead of those in illegal use. It therefore spells out the importance of having permits or agreements especially for those in agriculture whose business ventures can be easily destroyed by sudden changes in water availability.

As such farmers especially those involved in irrigation are therefore encouraged to take immediate steps towards obtaining water permits and safeguard their ventures.

Those applying for water permits or wishing to sign agreements are required to lodge applications with their respective ZINWA catchment offices. These applicants are expected to bring with them relevant supportive documents such as proof of ownership of land, or lease agreements for those renting properties. For those in agriculture an agricultural report form completed by the Agritex is needed. This report will be in the in a format spelt out in a form issued to the applicant at ZINWA offices.

For applications for storage permits, an engineer’s report is required.

When the relevant documents are submitted, ZINWA and the catchment council will determine the applications after going through certain processes that include inviting objections from other permit holders who stand to be affected in the event of a new permit being issued. When the processes are through and no valid objections have been received, a permit is then issued.

The permit or agreement usually have details such as the intended use of the water in question, the amount the holder can abstract and the point from which such abstraction would take place. Every permit holder is therefore required to install a meter at the point of abstraction so that the volumes of water abstracted can be ascertained. It is illegal for one to exceed the volumes stated in the permit or agreement. Section 118 of the Water Act which deals with offences and penalties says that anyone abstracts more that what he is entitled to or uses water in a manner prohibited by the act shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment not exceeding two years or to a fine equivalent to twice the amount of any profit derived or advantage unlawfully.

For more information please contact the ZINWA Corporate Communications and Marketing Department on pr@zinwa.co.zw or visit www.zinwa.co.zw.

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