The Water Act, which provides the parameters of water use in Zimbabwe, is very clear about the need for farmers to approach ZINWA and Catchment councils in order to acquire water permits or agreements before they can engage in any irrigation activities.
The requirement also applies to other people intending to use water for commercial purposes or to interfere with the course of a river or stream.
As a result, a lot of effort has been put into educating farmers on the benefits of legalising their irrigation activities and while a substantial number of them have acquired water permits over the years, a few understand that the terms regarding the abstraction, control, diversion and storage of water are flexible and therefore can be amended.
This has seen quite a number of permit or agreement holders failing to pay for water or disputing bills after their water use and bills fail to tally.
The Authority is empowered by the Section 41 of the water to alter terms of the water permits or agreements in relation to issues such as, the quantity of water permit holders are authorised to abstract, control, divert or store, changing the point on the course of the public stream on which water is abstracted as well as abstraction of water at an additional point on the public stream.
Usually, amending of water permits is triggered by a change in the conditions on which the right to use was based.
Whenever the amount of water in a public stream or dam is insufficient to sustain the activities for which the permit was granted, it is the Authority’s mandate to manage the situation and more often than not, the obvious solution is amending the permit.
It is very important for water users, especially irrigators, to understand that while ZINWA does not want to interfere with their activities, it is sometimes forced to intervene with the view to regulate water usage.
This is an important as part of the Authority’s mandate to ensure sustainable and equitable management of water resources in the country.
However, although the flexible nature of water permits is clearly outlined in the Water Act, many farmers do not seem to understand it and sadly, this has caused a lot of unnecessary complications in their relationship with the Zimbabwe National Water Authority.
It is imperative for farmers to appreciate that being a permit holder does not in any way prohibit ZINWA from monitoring the water situation and as indicated above, this is not meant to inhibit their farming activities but rather to avoid such common eventualities as over-abstraction.
Interestingly, it is also important to note that amendment of water permits can also be initiated by farmers themselves.
For example when their water requirements have outgrown the abstraction limit of their permits or agreements and they want to increase the amount of water they abstract or change the abstraction point along a public stream or dam, farmers can apply for a review of their permits and have them amended to suit their new requirements.
In other words and depending on the circumstances of the case, farmers can also take advantage of the flexibility of water permits to improve their farming activities.
Therefore, the fact that water permits can be amended should be embraced by farmers as it not only affords them the opportunity to increase water usage when it becomes necessary but it also enables ZINWA to monitor and regulate water usage in order to ensure sustainable utilisation of water resources.
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