Driving Nigeria’s Economic Growth through Water Use License

Coat of arms

By Sampson Ikemitang

Water is an essential source of society and any land as life is impossible without it. Water occupies an exceptional position in terms of other natural resources since life can survive in the absence of other resources but not without water. Water resources are managed by the catchment or hydrological area, quantity, and quality of water and the variability of water in the future.

The industry of Nigeria is quickly coming to terms with the country’s water-scarce position and is making noticeable changes in both culture and technology to have a more water-wise attitude. Therefore, the application for and consent to water use licenses should be welcomed as part of the attempt to incorporate more water-wise usage.

To deliver the country’s framework for the conservation, protection, management, development, control, and use of water resources, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had in May 2007 approved the establishment of the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission (NIWRMC), as a regulatory agency of the water resources sector. The indispensability of the Water Resources Regulatory Commission cannot be overemphasized.

The objectives of the Commission are to regulate, protect, conserve, and control water resources for equitable socio-economic development and to maintain environmental integrity. To ensure allocation, supply, and distribution of water resources for all uses and users to promote gender equality, hygiene, and the vulnerable sustainably and sufficiently following the best practices and conduct; amongst others.

In exercising the delegated power of the Honourable Minister of Water Resources, as encapsulated in item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative List, the Commission has undertaken certain functions such as the definition of standards for operation, execution, and performance; regulation of water resources development as well as its planning and management in line with international best practices, amongst others.

One of the regulatory activities of the Commission is the issuance of a water use license to raw bulk water users. The vital features of licences that can be issued, for instance, indicate effective places, purposes, and periods as well as the attachment of the nature of conditions.

What is a water use license? A water use license is a written permit that authorizes water users to abstract water from different sources or any other source to carry out their activities as provided in the Water Resources Act 2004. The license sets out the conditions for use, such as how much water you can use on your land in a single irrigation season.

Right to use water:
Under Section 2 of the Water Resources Act CAP. W2 LAWS of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, Water Use and License Regulations, 2016 (as amended), 2020, a person may without a license – take water from a water source to which the public has free access for reasonable domestic use or for watering domestic livestock; use water for subsistence fishing or for navigation to the extent that such use is not inconsistent with the Act or any existing law; use water for personal irrigation schemes covering not more than 5 hectares.

Registration and Licensing:
Section 4 subsection 1 of the Water Resources Act stipulates that the Minister shall license the following prescribed activities affecting the water sources listed in the Fifth Schedule to these Regulations – abstraction of surface water and groundwater; diversion, pumping, storage or use of water on a commercial scale; the construction of water boreholes; construction and operation of hydraulic structures for rivers, dams, water intake barrages, groynes, bed and bank stabilization, dykes, polders, wells.

Other licensing activities include public and private irrigation and drainage systems; diversion or impoundment of water for mining and discharge of waste water from mining into a water course; discharging waste or water contaminating waste into a water body through a pipe, canal, sewer, sea outfall or other conduit.

More so, when undertaking drainage and land reclamation; capital dredging; sand dredging, rock blasting, and rock removal from rivers; construction of infrastructure, roads, and bridges across rivers; any work affecting the bank and beds of water courses; carrying out commercial inland fisheries/aquaculture; transportation of specified substances over the watercourse; activities which reduce stream flow; using reservoirs for recreational purposes such as tourism, water sport, and boat riding purposes; and operating water quality laboratories and water analysis centers.

Also, the Minister shall issue a license for the following water uses –agriculture; commercial; hydropower generation; environmental; fisheries or aquaculture; industrial; leachate containment; mineral mining with water components; raw bulk water allocation to water boards; construction and operation of dams/reservoirs; water use metering equipment; drainage and land reclamation; registration of water boreholes for data collection; water borehole drilling companies; groundwater abstraction; surface water abstraction; discharge into water bodies; recreation; and water transportation.

Water Use Licence Application (WULA):
A Water Use Licence Application process is required for all water withdrawals that is in commercial scale. The water use licenses are undertaken within a period of 30 days which is initiated with the submission of the initial application documents and concludes when a decision is reached by the Department of Water Allocation and Authorization.

Contrary to the registration process which requires general authorization, the water use license application process requires a site visit to the area where the activity occurs or is proposed; a public participation process, a detailed specialist assessment of the likely impacts on water resources, and assessment of the application by the competent authority.

General Authorization (GA):
The Department of Water Allocation and Authorization, as the responsible department, has by notice in the Government Gazette issued general authorization that generally applies to specific water uses about specific water resources and or in specific areas. If a proposed activity complies with all the conditions as set out in the applicable general authorization, the activity will only be subject to a registration process that can be finalized within 30 days.

In conclusion, the Commission has so far given out 89 water use licenses to water related activities such as hydropower generation, irrigation, thermal power generation, commercial and industrial water usages, construction of dams and water quality laboratory analysis center, etc. across States of the Federation.

The need for regulations and oversight over water abstraction and other water-related activities cannot be denied. Water use licenses can greatly transform and impact greatly on the Nigerian economy. Consequently, the Commission is determined to generate revenue from the water resources sector for the nation, especially at a time when the crude oil revenue is dwindling and can no longer guarantee the funding of our yearly budget.

Sampson Ikemitang
writes from Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission,