TWO civil society organisations warned yesterday that, despite comments from Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan about the need for improved water management, government policies and practices were yet to show urgent reform.

Mr Gordhan, in his recent budget speech, said SA would see water shortages in just 13 years without improved management.

A report released yesterday, in the middle of National Water Week, by the Centre for Environmental Rights, found pressure on SA's constrained water resources - including mining pollution, the failure of some municipal water treatment services, and agriculture's overuse and pollution of water resources - was becoming "increasingly acute".

The centre's warning came on the same day that civil rights group AfriForum questioned the sincerity of the government's concern at SA's water crisis.

"Water is becoming death ... The government is not managing the water supply and infrastructure properly," the group's environmental head, Julius Kleynhans, said.

Despite deteriorating water infrastructure, housing developments were increasing in number, " placing an ever-increasing demand on water supplies, while water infrastructure is not upgraded", he said.

The National Planning Commission warned last year that SA needed to pay urgent attention to the proper management of water resources before their poor management and lack of maintenance constrained development.

SA's average rainfall, at 450mm, was less than half the global average (850mm) and by 2005, 95% of SA's freshwater resources had been allocated, said a 2011 Council for Scientific and Industrial Research report.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa is to publish a revised national water strategy and a legislative review of the laws governing the use of water in SA for public comment by the beginning of May, Department of Water Affairs spokesman Mava Scott said.

He said SA remained one of only few countries where tap water was drinkable, complying "fully" with both global and World Health Organisation standards.

He said Mr Kleynhans was "conveniently ignoring" the government's programmes in support of rural communities, and its work at improving SA's water infrastructure.

During the 2010-11 fiscal year the department completed nine regional bulk schemes, Mr Scott said, and it was working to ensure security of supply beyond 2025 - including an agreement with Lesotho for the construction of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

That project would, by 2020, add an additional 151-million cubic metres a year to the project's existing yield of 2986-million cubic metres a year.

However, the Centre for Environmental Rights yesterday said key water management "tools" were overly complex and technical, contributing to backlogs. It said there had been a long delay in "rolling out" water management institutions, and that the lack of progress in realising water and sanitation access rights had "reached crisis proportions in many parts of the country ".

It said the Department of Water Affairs lacked management and organisational "integrity", and there was a lack of "political and institutional priority" given to compliance, monitoring and enforcement of SA's water laws.

Tomorrow, Ms Molewa is to visit Carolina in Mpumalanga after the town's water source was "contaminated as a result of seepage and run-off believed to emanate from mining activities - active and abandoned - in the river basin", Mr Scott said.

blaines@bdfm.co,za