Water and Sappi's plantations in South Africa

We act as responsible stewards of water resources, reducing our water consumption and improving the quality of water we return to the environment. Discover how in South Africa with this FAQ.

What is South Africa’s water situation?

South Africa is located in a predominantly semi-arid part of the world. The climate varies from desert and semi-desert in the west to sub-humid along the eastern seaboard. Average rainfall, around 450 millimetres (mm) per year, is well below the global annual average of about 860 mm. Evaporation is comparatively high. South Africa’s water resources are, from a global perspective, extremely limited.

Does South African legislation regulate timber plantation water use?

Yes. The National Water Act (Act No 34 of 1998) declares timber plantations (afforestation) as stream flow reduction activities (SRAs). As SRAs, all existing commercial plantations must be registered as water users and will, in time, be licensed. Only lawful plantations will be granted a licence. The rules of legality for plantations are quite complex, but simply put, are as follows:

  • Afforestation that occurred prior to 1972 is lawful and may be registered and licensed
  • Afforestation that occurred after 1972 but before 1999 is lawful provided the plantation was planted in accordance with a valid afforestation permit
  • Afforestation after 1998 must be in accordance with a valid licence

How much water does forestry use?

Commercial forestry plantations in South Africa account for a little less than 3% of total water use. Plantations are not irrigated; they only intercept rainfall, which reduces runoff into rivers and streams. Agriculture and crop irrigation are the dominant users of water in South Africa.