Water use licenses are issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation. However, before a water use license can be issued for irrigation, they require approval from both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Obtaining water rights does not ensure that a water use license will be granted.

Ploughing certificate

The Department of Agriculture issues a ploughing certificate following a soil survey report and recommendation from a SACNASP registered soil scientist. The report must adhere to certain specifications such as; density of soil observations, analysis of selected soil chemical and physical properties and an assessment of whether or not a specific crop can be grown commercially on the land.

The suitability of the soil for irrigation hinges on whether or not the soil will be sustainably sufficiently drained to prevent waterlogging and salinization. Salinization is the build-up of salt in the soil. Excessive amounts of salt in the soil increases the energy which is needed to be exerted by a plant to extract water from the soil (osmotic pressure). Under irrigation, large amounts of salt are deposited in the soil.

Through the processes of evaporation and transpiration, the water is extracted from the soil, while the salt remains behind. If these processes carry on for several seasons, the salt buildup can be so severe that no plants can grow in the soil. The salt build up can be negated by washing the salts from the soil, either in excessive rainfall seasons or through over-irrigation. However, a prerequisite for this to be able to occur is of course that the soil must be well drained.

A ploughing certificate is a prerequisite for a Water Use Licence

If the SACNASP soil scientist deems the area suitable for irrigation, generally a ploughing certificate is issued by the Department of Agriculture. The ploughing certificate is issued for a specific area, and cannot be transferred from one site to another. Important is that a ploughing certificate is a prerequisite for a Water Use Licence. The practical implication is that if you are unsure whether an area will be suitable for irrigation, it can be included in the survey, as it will not jeopardize the entire area’s chances of being granted a ploughing certificate.

Environmental Impact Assessment

When clearing of the natural vegetation of an area larger than 1 ha approval from the Department of Environmental affairs is required. Approval can only be granted following an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). If the area is smaller than 20 ha, a basic EIA is required, while areas larger than 20 ha requires a full EIA. The basic assessment typically takes up to 6 months, while the full assessment takes about one year.

These assessments require a public participation process, done by an Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP), as well as specialist studies, conducted by SACNASP registered scientists in the respective fields. Normally the specialist studies include a soil assessment (already included in the ploughing certificate), an ecological assessment and a heritage assessment. When the source of irrigation water is a borehole, a geohydrology study is also required. Additionally, the EAP must acquire additional specialist studies if the situation demands it.

If any area that forms part of the EIA is deemed not suitable, the entire area is rejected. Therefore it is wise to follow the EAP’s recommendation to exclude certain areas if so required.

Even though the EIA takes much longer than the ploughing certificate, it is recommended that the soil investigation is done first. The reason is that soil is often the definitive factor which determines whether or not the license will be approved or not.

How to get a ploughing certificate