In 2011 – 2012 the then Ministry of Energy and Water Resources undertook an extensive process of consultation with the general public and a range of water sector professionals and academics. The outcome was a new National Water Resources Management Law that was passed in 2014.
The National Water Resources Management Act gave Sierra Leone Ministries – led by the Ministry of Water Resources - the power to introduce regulatory controls over water activities, in order to protect, improve and promote sustainable use of Sierra Leone’s water environment. This includes springs, streams, rivers, estuaries and groundwater resources.
A timetable of action to establish a new regulating agency has been set as well as details of the permissions and charges that will be applied for abstracting raw water and discharging to water courses.
National Water Resources Management Law
Numerous water related laws have existed in the past. Some were outdated and others were contradictory. You can read the new National Water Resources Management Bill here, which is currently set before Parliament for approval.
Once passed the national water resources management law will provide the National Water Resources Management Agency (NWRMA) with a legal framework in which to operate. Much of NWRMA’s business will be dedicated to collaboration and dialogue with major water abstractors. This will include activities such as licensing and enforcement, by carrying out site inspections and reviews to ensure compliance with licenses. Where necessary revisions and revocations of licenses may also be required.
The NWRMA will use the simplest and most efficient methods to apply the law working collaboratively with local water partnerships and communities. By providing clear guidance of new legislation we can ease the burden of regulation, while ensuring the best outcomes for local communities, the environment, human health, the economy and wider society.
NWRMA aims to undertake essential functions routinely and to be a firm but fair regulator, listening to communities and businesses and building our institutional capacity in an incremental manner.
Applying Water Laws Locally
Water laws must be applied in practice if they are to serve any purpose. If no regulation or policing of water usage is undertaken there are significant risks to the long-term sustainability of Sierra Leone’s precious water resources. For example:
• Drying out of rivers and inland valley swamps due to over abstraction, particularly during the dry season.
• Erratic and highly variable river flows downstream of Hydro Electric Power Plants
• Widespread pollution to the water environment
• Derogation of water supplies needed by other water users leading to an undermining of local and community level water security
It is vital that the activities of major water abstractors and projects which can cause water pollution are properly monitored and regulated. Responsible management of water resources involves ensuring that dry season water availability is consistent with demand, groundwater levels do not fall below abstraction levels and where multiple users make high demands on the resource that water use is prioritised appropriately for either domestic, agricultural, energy or industrial purposes.
Water laws will be implemented and authorized by reference to the level of risk posed by a specific activity as follows:
• Activities deemed to be of low risk to the environment are covered by a general binding rule. These will take the form of local community level byelaws for water usage. There will be no need to contact the NWRMA or MWR or incur any charges. Examples of low risk activities include water supplies drawn from community wells with handpumps or from small streams and springs
• Activities that are of low risk on their own but may pose part of a broader collective risk will need registration. For example groundwater abstractions from wells or boreholes of 10m3 per day or more will require an application to the NWRMA and payment of a small fee. In return the NWRMA will ensure that no new boreholes will be registered near to this supply in future without an hydrogeological assessment to prove non-interference.
• Major water abstractions or other activities that pose a moderate or high risk to the water environment will require a license. This will require the individual or organisation to carry out a thorough environmental assessment including a water interests survey and to submit a licence application to the NWMRA. Licence applications must include requirements for operational safeguards including monitoring proposals with criteria for initiating contingency actions. Compliance is required with conditions established in the license. The NWRMA will carry out periodic inspections and where appropriate enforce licence conditions including the option to withdraw or amend the licence. An application fee and annual fee will be payable during the licencing period.
Pollution Prevention Guidelines
The Ministry of Water are actively developing Pollution Prevention Guidelines (PPG’s) appropriate for Sierra Leone. These will be periodically reviewed and updated. Existing guidance includes:
• Protection of water resources from wastes arising at Ebola care facilities (December 2014)
• Management of wastes arising at Ebola care facilities (January 2015)
• Decommissioning of Ebola care facilities (March 2015)
Other guidance will follow including, but are not limited, to:
• Disposal or treatment of human sludge
• Dealing with oil and fuel spills
• Working at construction and mining sites
• Use of pesticides and herbicides
• Disposal of solid waste adjacent to river courses
Abstraction and Impoundment
Abstraction refers to the removal of water from the water environment. It can be carried out using pumps, pipes or engineering structures constructed in watercourses (such as dams and coffer dams).
If you own or operate inland water abstractions, coastal and transitional water abstractions, or are abstracting water from a well or borehole using mechanised pumping you will probably require some form of authorization from NWRMA or MWR. Similarly if you are involved or plan to impound or divert water from its natural watercourse, you will be required to apply for a license.
An impoundment is any dam, weir or engineering structure that can raise the level of a water body above it natural level. It includes new reservoirs and impoundments which can be classified as either “on-line” or “off-line”. On-line impoundments hold back water in rivers and estuaries and consequently affect downstream flows. Off-line impoundments are built on land to store water, such as reservoirs. Typically an impoundment is considered off-line if there is no river flowing in.
Where abstraction or impoundment will be undertaken on a permanent or temporary basis it will require authorization from the National Water Resources Management Agency or Ministry of Water Resources.
The National Water Resources Management Law requires any activity likely to cause pollution to be authorised. The Ministry of Water Resources and the National Water Resources Management Agency will use these legal powers to control discharges to the environment.
Point source discharges involve the release of effluent or chemicals which directly or indirectly enter en to a water body or land, which have the potential to cause pollution of surface water or groundwater.
Diffuse pollution involves the release of potential pollutants over a wide area of land that can collectively have an adverse affect on the water environment. This can include, for example, the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, land management practices, mining activities; deforestation or run-off from urban areas or construction sites.
These sources of pollution can pose a risk to humans and habitats and can affect water quality or the livelihoods of rural communities. For example, iron and other metal contaminated pollution from mining activities can kill most animal life. Uncontrolled discharges of suspended solids from mining activities can ruin water supplies in surface watercourses.
Organisations who require licenses for abstraction and discharges will also be required to submit data returns with a compliance report. Data returns will provide both quantitative and qualitative data at frequencies specified in the licence. Such information will be used to assess compliance with license conditions and to enable an assessment of impacts on the environment.
This new legislation provides the framework for maintaining sustainable water resources for all into the future. With growing demands from community and industry for water, particularly through the dry season, legislative controls provide a step towards measuring and managing the quantity and quality of our water resources. Enforcement mechanisms will be available where needed. Furthermore the systems developed under the legislation will provide political and other decision-makers in communities and industry with better information to guide future water usage planning, whether for water supply agriculture or industry. Once the new Water Resources Management Bill is approved and becomes law we will provide further details on this website of the approaches MWR and the NWMRA will take to enact the new law.