Regular assessment of the state of water research and development (R&D) in South Africa is a necessary component of science policy and successful R&D implementation. Among others, effective R&D has a direct impact on water resource management and promotes training and capacity building initiatives. Much of the country’s water research is carried out under the auspices of the Water Research Commission (WRC), a national public entity established by the Water Research Act (Act No. 34 of 1971). Water R&D is carried out by universities, public research institutions and science councils as well as the private sector. A scientometric examination of South Africa’s research and development performance indicates that while the water research and development community is small, it is highly productive. The analysis indicates that the South African contribution to the global share of water-related papers in journals indexed by the ISI (now Thomson Reuters Web of Science) is more than 3 times the average for all disciplines in the country, and that South Africa ranks 19th in the world in the domain of ‘Water Resources’. A study of the patent data further indicates a much higher than average conversion of knowledge to products as indicated by the water-related patent/total patent ratios.