Views on unlawful water abstractions along the Liebenbergsvlei River, South Africa
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As a result of the growing demand for additional water supplies, officials at the National Department of Water Affairs (DWA) continually monitor consumption patterns. The unlawful abstraction of water for irrigation purposes along the Axle and Liebenbergsvlei water transfer scheme, a South African river catchment, has been identified as a potential over-consumption hotspot. An investigation into the evolution of modern farming and irrigation developments along this important water transfer scheme found that restrictions on irrigation water abstraction have primarily focused on the water security of downstream urban and industrial users who receive water at a high assurance of supply. During periods of normal rainfall the authorities paid little attention to the existing use of water from the Liebenbergsvlei water transfer scheme. Subsequent restrictions placed on local water abstraction for irrigation has achieved mixed results. This paper focuses on the perspectives of irrigation farmers who may be unlawfully using water from the transfer scheme. Their views are compared with those expressed by the authorities on this issue, and the way in which the authorities attempt to regulate water use in the region within the confines of existing legislation. The responses from the different sectors were qualitatively analysed and suggested solutions have been formulated for further discussion. The study’s major findings reveal that the contestation around water use for agricultural purposes will continue as long as the misunderstandings surrounding legal or illegal water use persist. As demand on water is escalating, it is considered important to put in place water security measures designed to safeguard the available water in light of scarcity.