While South Africa does not face a water crisis, the country will have to take the necessary steps to prevent severe shortages that could give rise to serious socio-economic problems, says the Department of Water Affairs.
"We don't have a crisis; we have a lot of options, but those options require effort and money, so the more we manage out water effectively, the better for all of us," the department's director for national water resources, Fred Van Zyl, said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a conference on the country's water resource strategy, approved by Cabinet earlier this year. The gathering was attended by representatives from the government, business, agriculture and civil society.
The department urged stakeholders attending the conference to place water management at the centre of their plans.
The available data indicates that if South Africa does not improve its water management, it could experience serious shortages as early as 2020.
The national water resource strategy, recently made public by Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, warns that South Africa will be "at risk" if water is not taken seriously and interventions are not made timeously.
It points to the need to protect the country's fresh water sources, while improving the management of water across key economic development centres like Gauteng province, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal.
Van Zyl said part of the solution was to impose restrictions on irrigation, tighten laws that governed water management, and explore the possibility of sea water desalination - though the latter could prove too expensive.
There was a need to invest strongly in water infrastructure in Gauteng province, as well as in the country's major economic sectors, particularly mining, he added.