Milestone during WISA: establishment of Catchment Management Agencies

From June 12 to 14, the WISA conference took place in Durban, South Africa. This 3-day water management event for Southern Africa had the theme 'Turning the Tide'. A significant moment during the conference was the official launch of water authorities for South Africa, called Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs).

Over the past years, the Blue Deal shared its experiences related to water resource management tasks, which contributed to the establishment of CMAs in South Africa. Marion Wierda, CEO of Blue Deal South Africa, played a crucial role alongside the South African minister and other dignitaries during this inaugural event. We also spoke about the 750-year history of the water authorities in the Netherlands.

Previously, CMA responsibilities in South Africa were scattered across provinces and ministries. By creating these water authorities, we emphasise the importance of clean, sufficient and safe water. CMAs enable local, responsible management of water-related challenges. Together, we’re working towards resilient water management.

During the conference, the Blue Deal also achieved the following:

  • We conducted workshops on Blue Deal collaborations, including a workshop on ‘Women in Water’, in partnership with the World Water Academy.
  • We participated in the Wetskills competition. Our Blue Deal team presented a case study, and 4 students from around the world delivered their final presentations during WISA.
  • We managed a joint booth with the Department of Water and Sanitation, where we connected with stakeholders during breaks.
  • We held meetings and established agreements with the Dutch ambassador and the Minister of Water and Sanitation in South Africa (joint Steering Committee).
  • And much more!

Blog: Climate Scan Blue Deal South Africa

As part of the KIWI programme (learning programme for the Blue Deal), Tom Overgaauw has been exploring 'Windows of Opportunity' for climate adaptation in the Western Cape of South Africa. These are opportunities that currently present themselves to tackle the negative impacts of climate change. He wrote a blog about his findings.

Over the past year, I have been working on creating a ‘Climate Scan’ for the area. This concise scan aims to map the effects of climate change and identify the major risks. It serves as the basis for the search for the Windows of Opportunity.

The problem: working in silos

The Climate Scan has now been completed, and interesting conclusions have been drawn. We shared the results with various organisations. Notable findings from the climate scan include the large amount of available information and plans. High ambitions have been formulated, and many organisations have developed plans. However, very little seems to actually get off the ground. The biggest problem we identified, is working in so-called silos. Governments and companies are insufficiently aware of each other’s plans, and successful collaborations rarely happen. Nevertheless, everyone recognises that collaboration is ‘key’ to solving climate problems.

This problem is quite familiar to us in the Netherlands as well, as we often say we need to collaborate better. This conclusion forms the first ‘Window of Opportunity’. So both the Dutch and the South Africans can both contribute and learn a lot. South Africa, also known as the Rainbow Nation, is a country with a great mix of ethnicities and cultural differences, making successful collaborations extra challenging. Success stories can serve as a inspiration for the Netherlands.

Drought and rainfall

Another conclusion concerns water availability. Often when we think of South Africa’s weather, we think of drought. This is indeed a problem, but despite this image, there is quite a lot of rainfall in this part of Africa. In some areas, almost twice as much as in the Netherlands annually. The biggest problem does not seem to be the availability of water, but rather the distribution. Especially with the growing population and the increasing water demand, smart ways need to be devised to always have sufficient water available. This is something we also struggle with in the Netherlands. How do we ensure sufficient water in dry times while also having enough space for water in wet times?

Decision support system for fair water distribution

With these 2 opportunities in mind, we increasingly delved into methods to achieve smart and collaborative water management solutions, ways to collaborate across borders. The key, we believe, could lie in a decision support system that, based on data, helps to achieve fairer water distribution among different parties throughout the seasons. Through a feasibility study, we investigated whether this concept is promising to pursue further. Various parties responded enthusiastically. We also immediately investigated what the needs are within this system and which are most urgent, for example, prediction of droughts or early warnings for floods or wildfires. We are now trying to turn this into a project.

Blue Deal Regional Meeting Africa

From 7 to 10 July, a Regional Meeting will take place in Kenya, gathering Blue Deal partnerships from 7 countries. This event serves as a follow-up to the Blue Deal Congress held in Amsterdam in June 2023.

A workshop during the Blue Deal Congress, where the idea for the regional meeting originated

Topics in Amsterdam were, among others, water pricing and nature-based solutions. During the meetings in this congress week, mutual exchange proved promising on a number of water themes. One thing in particular was shared among the participants: to further deepen these initial contacts, and to share and learn from each other’s experiences. The result is the Blue Deal Regional Meeting in Kenya.

Countries and themes

Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Eswatini have indicated that they will participate in July 2024 in this Regional Blue Deal Meeting. Blue Deal Kenya is gracious enough to host the event in Mombasa. The following 3 issues will be part of the exchange:

  1. Water pricing
  2. Funding for water projects
  3. Funding and governance for nature-based solutions

Advantages of exchange

The partnerships participating in the event foresee many advantages of the exchange:

  • Facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practices at the international level;
  • Discuss challenges of water management through intervision;
  • Explore the advantages of international cooperation;
  • Deepen and share insights on elevating the importance of water on the political agenda;
  • Strengthen the consortia of Blue Deal/Waterworx (a similar programme to the Blue Deal, initiated by the Dutch drinking water companies) and National Entities.

The regional meeting in Africa can also provide valuable input for the broader Blue Deal programme’s learning activities, such as the Communities of Practice.

New steps towards Green Drop Certification South Africa

A recent important chapter unfolded for the Blue Deal Crocodile River Partnership during the November 2023 work visit in Mpumalanga, South Africa, emphasising sustainable wastewater treatment.

During this work visit, the Blue Deal Crocodile River Memorandum of Understanding “Oversight Committee” was formally established, and its inaugural meeting was hosted on 16 November. The Oversight Committee is comprised of the heads of all partner institutions that are signatories to the Blue Deal Crocodile River Memorandum of Understanding. This newly established committee creates a platform where the progress made by the partnership is formerly reported to the Heads of partner institutions. This latest development is also significant progress in ensuring buy-in and support for the Blue Deal Crocodile River Partnership programme by the leadership of the partner institutions. In the future, the meetings of the Oversight Committee will sit annually to appraise the progress made by the Blue Deal Crocodile River Partnership programme.

Deeply valued

The support from the Head of Department (HOD) at the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) is deeply valued. The HOD CoGTA has accepted the role of Chairing the newly established Oversight Committee. His guidance and support directly assisted in the hosting of the committee’s inaugural meeting.


During the inaugural meeting, each task team reported progress through the lense of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Green Drop certification for the participating wastewater treatment plants. The Water Quality and Data-sharing Task Team presented a detailed examination of wastewater treatment plant discharge, emphasising the need for thorough data compliance and as to how the same would improve Green Drop scoring. Communication and intergovernmental relations Task Team reported significant strides, with a recognisable partnership logo symbolising its growing presence. The Technical Capacitation and Wastewater Treatment Works Optimisation Task Team set stretching targets for annual improvements in Green Drop scoring such as to ensure Green Drop certification by 2030. The Business Planning and Finances Task Team highlighted the key importance of business planning and finance in support of enabling wastewater treatment plants performance, and hence Green Drop certification.

Ring-fencing municipal budgets

Projections anticipate significant Green Drop Score improvements across the various wastewater treatment plants locations of the partner Municipalities (Mbombela LM, Nkomazi LM, and Emakhazeni LM), emphasising the partnership’s concerted efforts. A key recommendation proposed and adopted by the Blue Deal Crocodile River Partnership is to establish ring-fencing of municipal budgets for the respective wastewater treatment plants, and most especially as regards operation and maintenance.

Who is your buddy?

Internationally, the collaboration includes a peer learning buddy-approach for exchanging wastewater treatment expertise and experiences between Dutch and South African wastewater treatment plants’ superintendents. The partnership’s “buddying” is embarking on a structured programme of collective peer learning, fostering a dynamic environment of reciprocal exchange both amongst South African Blue Deal municipalities, and also internationally with the Dutch Water Authorities.

Unwavering commitment is crucial

In conclusion, all parties have agreed that whilst early indications are that progress is promising, unwavering commitment is crucial. The Blue Deal Crocodile River Partnership Oversight Committee will serve as a sentinel, providing an accounting platform for annual feedback and progress reporting to signatories of the Memorandum of Understanding.

7th REMCO conference in Eswatini: transboundary cooperation is a must

From November 6 to 10, more than 200 water managers and water loving professionals gathered in Mbabane, Eswatini, to attend the 7th edition of the REMCO conference. And for the first time, it was hosted by the Joint River Basin Authorities together with Blue Deal Eswatini.

REMCO stands for River and Environmental Management Cooperation. It is a conference that is held every 2 years in one of the 3 Blue Deal countries in southern Africa: Eswatini, Mozambique and South Africa. These countries share the Maputo and Inkomati river basins. Climate change impacts the region through the greater frequency and severity of floods and droughts. In order to meet these growing challenges, transboundary cooperation is a must.

Sharing knowledge

Water professionals, researchers, policymakers, stakeholders from the Incomati and Maputo River basins and partners from 7 countries, European and African, were all present. They exchanged ideas, talked about innovations and discussed past, present and future challenges in water management. This conference had a focus on improving collaboration on operational water management challenges. Topics discussed included:

  • the participation of women and youth
  • data management and exchange
  • and the importance of water for a growing economy and vibrant communities (agriculture, tourism, industry, energy, etc).

The Blue Deal teams of all 3 countries participated. Representatives of Dutch Water Authorities were present to support, learn and discuss. Dutch Professor Herman Havekes gave a presentation on Dutch water governance. Other Dutch colleagues shared their experience and knowledge as to how transboundary water management with Germany and Belgium is important for the Netherlands as well.

Keynote from Ministry

Welcome remarks were delivered by each country. The keynote speech and official opening of the REMCO conference was done by host country Eswatini. Ms Dorcas Dlamini spoke warm words as Principle Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy. On behalf of the European participants, Ms Ellen Hemmers, head of the delegation from Dutch Water Authorities and Executive Board member of Dutch water authority Vechtstromen, shared the welcome and high expectations for the coming days.

National elections

During the week the results of the national elections in Eswatini became clear. Ms Ellen Hemmers congratulated the newly appointed Prime Minister Russel Dlamini, saying that she understands that the Prime Minister was well versed in issues of water and the importance of sustainable water management. The week after, the JRBA and Waterschap Vechtstromen congratulated the new Minister HRH Prince Lonkhokhelo with his appointment to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy which includes water resource management.

Next location: Mozambique

The last day of the conference is always set aside for a field trip. Tourism was included this year as a topic for both opportunities and sustainable water management. Delegates travelled to the cultural village of Mantenga. However, for those who had missed water after 4 days of inside conference, there was a water option to visit Maguga Dam in Eswatini. The next REMCO will be in 2 years in Mozambique as the previous was 2 years ago in South Africa.

The Royal visit to South Africa: a personal account

Zamafuze (Zama) Ngcobo is a Young Expert Professional (YEP) of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa, with a background as a geohydrologist. As a Yepper she mainly does project management. And on October 18, she got to show the Dutch king and queen around in her project in Blesbokspuit. Zama: “I never thought I would do something like this.”

Zama (right) together with the king (left)

When did you hear about the royal visit?

“At first I was told there was going to be a high-level visit. I didn’t know who it was going to be. And then in August I heard I would be showing the king and queen around.”

“It was very nerve-wracking. There was so much preparation that went into it. Everybody stressed the importance of this visit.” She laughs: “And then they told me to relax…”

“It really took a full two months of getting everything as perfect as possible, and the whole event itself was only 45 minutes. But we could really see the importance of making a good impression. If your project gains the attention of important people, it really helps to get people into action, rejuvenate the project, get things done.”

> Read more about what was shown during the visit

What were the king and queen like?

“During the preparation for the visit, I asked for a briefing about how to act around the king and queen. Do I shake hands, do I curtsy? With the Dutch king and queen it turned out to be just a simple handshake. And they were quite friendly, all smiles.”

“I thought it would be more of a presentation with me doing most of the talking, but they jumped right in, asking questions. The king especially, with his background in water management, asked some really hard questions. But I was happy with this, it showed their engagement. I started to relax, because it really turned into a conversation. They asked about what we were struggling with and how we worked around it. And we spoke about different sorts of solutions, the effects of the mining in the area, and if we would be able to completely remove the water hyacinth.”

> Read more about the project

Were you happy with the results of the visit?

“Sometimes with a project, you need to get assistance from the top. High-level events like this put a spotlight on the project and really help to get attention from the right people. Now, things are already set in motion thanks to this visit. It also really helped that the South African Minister of Water and Sanitation, Mr Edward Senzo Mchunu, and the Mayor of the City of Ekurhuleni, Mr. Sivuyile Ngodwana, were present during the visit. The Minister really helped to push things forward for the future. There have already been many plans and meetings since the visit.”

“I would really recommend the project managers of other Blue Deal partnerships to see if there are any possibilities for high level visits. If you hear that a Minister or somebody else is visiting the area that you are working in, try to get them to visit your project. Not only does it help to move the project further, but it is also important for acknowledgement. Our work is really difficult and it can be so tiring, so it is nice to get the recognition from high level people.”

“I am really happy we got the message across and my colleagues were pleased with how I represented the project. It was a bit of a blur in the moment, but afterwards I realised: wow, I really did do that.”

Dutch King and Queen visit Blue Deal South Africa

His Majesty the King of the Netherlands and Her Majesty Queen Máxima were proudly received at the Blesbokspruit wetland in South Africa on October 18, in the presence of South African Minister Mchunu (water and sanitation). The visit to this Blue Deal project is the first part of their 3-day state visit to South Africa.

The wetland suffers from poor water quality, caused by the water hyacinth, an invasive aquatic plant. The King and Queen are enthusiastic about the creative solutions that South African and Dutch water authorities are jointly investigating to combat water hyacinth. This is done in the context of the Blue Deal, the international programme of Dutch Water Authorities and the Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure and Water Management.

Fleas combat the water hyacinth

During the tour, the royal couple saw how the water hyacinth is removed. This is not only done by hand and with machines. Researchers are experimenting here with biological control. Natural enemies of the water hyacinth play the leading role: fleas from South America. King Willem-Alexander visited the greenhouse where the fleas are grown. And watched as these were deployed on the water hyacinth.

Entrepreneurs use water hyacinth a raw material

In the meantime, Queen Máxima spoke with a local entrepreneur, who uses the dried water hyacinth to weave baskets and other useful products and sell them. The woman also trains others in weaving and entrepreneurship. This initiative really appealed to the Queen. Also, water hyacinth is not only used for weaving products. Applications on a larger scale also seem promising, for example as a raw material for briquettes or geotextiles.

Young water professionals and students help out

There is still a lot to discover and learn within the Blesbokspruit project. The Blue Deal makes grateful use of the innovative ideas of students with a passion for water from the international Wetskills programme. These students come from all over the world. Their goal: finding innovative solutions to water management challenges in a changing world. In Blesbokspruit, a Wetskills participant presented her ideas to the King.

Challenges to learn from, experiences to share

Sharing knowledge and experiences with each other is what the water authorities do in the Blue Deal programme. The Blesbokspruit project is a good example of this. This is not just about solving an isolated problem. Water managers pool their expertise and share the results, also with other regions with similar problems. The Blue Deal programme has partnerships in 15 countries. The goal: improve access to clean, sufficient and safe water for 20 million people worldwide.

Two-way street

By exchanging knowledge, the Dutch water authorities also learn a lot from partnerships with other countries. For example, just like South Africa, the Netherlands has to deal with invasive exotic species. In addition, the water authorities can learn a lot about drought, with which South Africa already has a lot of experience.

> Read an interview with Zama, who showed the King and Queen around

> Read more about the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa

Management 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships exchanges knowledge

On September 7, the Dutch management of the 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships came together in the Dutch province Fryslân for a meeting. The objective for this gathering was: how can we learn from each other about managing large partnerships?

The meeting was amongst the partnerships of Mozambique, Colombia, Eswatini and South Africa. The managers were invited to Friesland, at the invitation of the partnership manager of Mozambique, of which Wetterskip Fryslân (the Dutch water authority in the area of Fryslân) is the lead partner. This was the third time that the major partnerships organized such a consultation. This time was extra special, thanks to a boat trip through the beautiful Alde Feanen nature reserve.

Topics to discuss

The colleagues exchanged, for example, their experiences with working with a so-called ‘talking sheet’. This sheets makes it visible which Blue Deal topics the partnership is working on, and where there are topics that still need to be addressed. “It helps to establish a relationship of the concrete activities which are implemented with the longer-term goals,” says one of the participants. “Large partnerships deal with many people and interests. Visualising this helps to get an overview of how all our activities contribute to our larger goals, and what we should continue or stop.”

The participants also discussed, among other things, their annual plans for 2024, presented to each other how they have organised their partnerships and discussed decentralization in one of the partner countries. They also covered the safety assessments of work visits, finances, accountability, and much more.

Learning from each other

An important part of the Blue Deal is learning from each other. Therefore, the Blue Deal learning programme also includes a training for new partnership managers. Thanks to this joint intervision of the partnership managers, the 4 largest partnerships are now going one step further to exchange knowledge with each other.

Green Drop Improvement Plans for a better water quality in the Blue Deal Crocodile River project

The Blue Deal partnership in South Africa achieved a significant milestone in the Crocodile River project: the partner municipalities of Mbombela, Emakhazeni and Nkomazi each successfully developed and submitted their Green Drop Improvement Plans.

The Blue Deal Crocodile River project in Mpumalanga, South Africa, works on improving the water quality and sustainability of the Crocodile River. Perhaps the single most important objective of the partnership is to ensure that all participating waste water treatment plants attain the prestigious Green Drop status.

That the partner municipalities have now been able to submit their plans, is the result of the successful collaboration between the South African and Dutch partner teams who, through their joint efforts and ‘buddying’ peer-based learning approach, achieved this notable milestone on the journey towards Green Drop status.

Optimising the operation

The Green Drop Improvement Plans focus on crucial aspects of optimizing the performance of the waste water treatment plants. For example, the development of asset registers and strategies to improve the municipalities’ Green Drop score. By prioritizing these plans, the municipalities aim to secure the esteemed Green Drop certification, a mark of excellence in waste water management.

To attain the prestigious Green Drop Certification, waste water systems must achieve scores equal to or exceeding 90%, with different performance areas carrying a unique weighting based on regulatory priorities. The certification holds great significance as it recognizes the municipalities’ dedication to optimizing the operation of waste water treatment plants and ensuring the highest standards of treated waste water discharge.

First step

Drawing up these plans is the first step in the process of working towards a Green Drop Certificate. The Blue Deal project aims for all 6 participating waste water treatment plants to have obtained a Green Drop Certificate by 2030. However, in September of this year, the waste water treatment plants will be tested again by the Department of Water & Sanitation. We hope to see a concrete improvement in the scores by then. After all, concrete things have already been improved in the run-up and during the writing of the plans, such as the renewal of a number of assets. The next test moment is in 2026, when we expect that a number of waste water treatment plants will have already obtained the Green Drop Certificate by then.

What makes drawing up these plans special is that we have succeeded in drawing up these plans in a collaboration between 3 municipalities, MISA (regional organisation) and COGTA (ministry) and the Department of Water & Sanitation. This is unique to South Africa and may be a model that can be applied elsewhere.

Towards a harmonious environment

A vital beneficiary of improved water quality is the majestic Crocodile River. The river’s health is essential for sustaining important economic drivers of the region (including the abundant wildlife and tourism, as well as both export and local agriculture), meeting the needs of local communities, religious ceremonies and safe drinking water. By striving to enhance the quality of the Crocodile River, the participating organisations are actively working towards creating a more uplifting, sustainable, and harmonious environment for all.

Work visit to Theewaterskloof project in South Africa

'Nothing About Us Without Us'. A slogan that exactly expresses what the Blue Deal Theewaterskloof project in South Africa is doing: meaningful participation by all partners, especially with the local community as guiding project members. Since only an engaged community leads to sustainable change.

The ultimate goal of the Theewaterskloof project is to address the diffuse pollution threat emanating from rapidly growing informal settlements. We do this by improving sanitation and decreasing solid waste pollution. The project is rolled out in the towns of Grabouw and Villiersdorp in the Theewaterskloof Municipality, Western Cape.

The highly anticipated Blue Deal Theewaterskloof work visit took place from July 9 – 21. It included a team building session with all the parties involved. A clear way forward was discussed and steps to enable action plans with the project teams were made.

Nelson Mandela Day

July 18 marked a special day: Nelson Mandela Day. The worldwide Mandela Day Campaign message encourages people to use 67 minutes of their time to support a chosen charity or serve in their local community. The 67 minutes symbolically represent the number of years the former President fought for human rights and the abolition of Apartheid. The Blue Deal project team joined forces with local communities in Villiersdorp and Grabouw and took this opportunity to make a difference, which included a river clean-up, painting of a day care centre and fixing the sanitation facilities there.

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding

This was followed by the signing of the Blue Deal Theewaterskloof local Memorandum of Understanding by the core partners. These were Dutch Water Authorities, Theewaterskloof Local Municipality, Department of Water & Sanitation: Western Cape, and the Breede-Olifants Catchment Management Agency. In doing so, the partners expressed their support and commitment. Indeed an important moment for the project, led by a local pastor’s prayer, celebrated with singing and dancing.