A successful IAH Congress comes to a close

The 41st IAH Congress is coming at an end. It has been a brilliant week for learning more about the importance of hydrogeology and the latest developments in groundwater science.

For UPGro is has been a great opportunity to become known on the international stage. 9 of the 15 projects were represented and researchers from the programme gave numerous excellent keynote, oral and poster presentations throughout the week. Yesterday we had a very successful half day workshop and more details and videos will be published here soon. The UPGro exhibition stand has also been a great hub over the week and has hosted some wonderful and valuable discussions,

The knowledge broker team (Sean, Kerstin and Richard) would like to thank the International Association of Hydrogeologists and the event organisers for being so accommodating to the UPGro researchers and for enabling us to have a have our own session and an exhibition stand.

We would also like to thank all the UPGro researchers, both those who were able to attend and those who, unfortunately, could not.

We still have some more interesting materials to publish, however, the next opportunity to find out about the UPGro research will be during the upcoming RWSN webinar series that begins next Tuesday. Visit http://www.rural-water-supply.net for details.


“Groundwater: So What?” Keynote by Prof. Richard Carter

In his key note speech, Professor Richard Carter urged the delegation at the 41st IAH Congress to do more to explain why groundwater matters and why hydrogeological science is important.

“I wish there was a District Water Officer or a Finance Minister speaking here, perhaps both instead of me, asking you what all this groundwater science means for them and the decisions they have to make.”

During the course of his half hour talk, Professor Carter focused on some the complex reasons why rural water supplies in Africa often fail:

“Developing groundwater for rural water supply should be simple. What we see is that many boreholes and pumps abandoned and not working. There are too many broken and failing pumps or boreholes.”
“What water point functionality data shows from various countries is that 20-30% of points fail in the first year and then there is attrition from then on.”

He outlined some of the common failures but highlighted that these were just symptoms of a wider problem:

“poor appreciation and understanding by political leaders, practitioners and public about how groundwater works.”
What do they want or need to know? They need to understand the importance of groundwater as :
1) a resource
2) a buffer against short term variability of rainfall and runoff
3) a (generally) good quality resource
There does need to be some quantitative understanding of what renewable resource is available; abstraction rates; and the relative water demands coming from agriculture, industry, urban and rural water supply.
Also needed among finance and economic development ministers is how groundwater can enable or inhibit development ambitions, and also the value of groundwater protection and long term monitoring.
Professor Carter described the UPGro programme and the challenges of doing true interdisciplinary research so that the social and geo-science work seamlessly together to deliver evidence and tools that are more likely to be taken up and used by those who can make a difference to the lives of millions living in poverty across Sub-Saharan Africa.
He concluded:
“We need good science, to support groundwater development, but as scientists we need to become more politically savvy and better communicators to make our science and research relevant to policy and practice.”

(Full Video to be posted soon)

Daina Mudimbu

Will the wells run dry? An urgent need for better groundwater monitoring in Zimbabwe and Malawi identified.

Daina Mudimbu, from the University of Zimbabwe, presented the work in “Resource limitations to sustainability of groundwater well-points in basement complex regions of SSA” Catalyst Study.
In Malawi there is episodic recharge; there is sparse data in Malawi for looking at groundwater storage and long term water balances. The balances were done for different water resource areas in Malawi and in four of these areas it appears that there isn’t water available and boreholes in those areas are likely to run dry because abstraction exceeds recharge after long dry periods.
Zimbabwe, like Malawi, it is dominated by the Basement Complex geology. The study looked at micro-aquifers and tried to look at the overall flows of groundwater. Recharge doesn’t occur every year and when it is only intense rainfall that seems to have an effect, which supports the work done by other Catalyst projects on recharge thresholds.
WaterAid water point mapping data which indicated that demand is not exceeding supply. However, the lack of published borehole data makes it difficult to estimate aquifer properties. Furthermore, Zimbabwe boreholes cannot be identified in many cases, so it is hard to match new measurements with old records.
Monitoring rainfall is done quite well, but multi-annual monitoring is very sparse so hard to look at long term trends.
Crystalline basement areas are at high risk aquifers. Some settlements totally dependent on this groundwater. Population growth and greater agricultural use without monitoring and understanding the resource, then the risk increases of unheralded resource failure: there is no back up.
This work shows that there is a very urgent need to improve the groundwater monitoring network in both countries so that aquifer depletion can be detected before the wells run dry.

Africa Groundwater Atlas launched officially

Alan MacDonald, Brighid Ó Dochartaigh and Kirsty Upton of BGS introduced the new Africa Groundwater Atlas, which has been funded through the UPGro programme.

Alan explained that it was a scientific paper with a continental overview of aquifers in Africa that attracted publicity that helped to unlock funding for a fuller Atlas, with a wikipedia style gateway for every country, a grey literature archive, a book version of the Atlas and a collection of long term groundwater records, also called ‘chronicles’.

Grey Literature Archive
The online archive has over 6,000 references. Keyword and tags are important way of enabling users to find what they want – and the system has been carefully designed to be multilingual.

In addition, many of the reports are georeferenced and appear on an online map. Some are points, some are squares (usually from 100km2 to country level).

Can BGS guarantee the quality of the documents? No, but the information is curated in such a way that the most important reports for a particular topic or country are highlighted.

Information from all over Africa has been gathered, however more is always welcome, particularly from North Africa.

Country-by-country Atlas: online and book
The Atlas will appear online as a wiki-site that can be edited as by users. Why not use Wikipedia? You want the Atlas to be cited in the scientific literature, so it needs stricter editorial control. By 2016 a printed book will be available through IAH publishing.

Environmental data has been pulled together from many freely available databases on soil, climate, topography and hydrology. This is then combined with the hydrogeological data to give an overall picture of groundwater resources for every African country.

BGS have been systematic for every country, but the simplified groundwater maps can be annotated by hydrogeologists in the country to highlight the main aquifers. Set up a framework of hydrogeological environments. National hydrologists can split those into aquifers as per their methdologies and definitions. Multi-level aquifers are a problem to represent.

The input from national hydrogeologists is important. The incentive to be involved is contributing is making it better and getting recognition on the website and in the country chapter in the IAH book.

Atlas in book form will have 5 year shelf life by which time it will be ready for a new edition based on the updated website version.

The Archive can be accessed here http://www.bgs.ac.uk/africagroundwateratlas/index.cfm

Tracking pollution from a small town in Zambia

James Sorenson (BGS) walked us through his poster presentation for his Catalyst Project: Mapping groundwater quality degradation beneath growing rural towns in Sub Saharan Africa.

The story starts with a pesticide found in slug pellets, which was unexpectedly detected in UK groundwater. This prompted this research to look for similar chemicals in African groundwater, What was found was relatively high levels of DEET, known to many travellers as “Jungle Formula” for keeping mosquitos at bay.

The implications are that these potentially health impacting chemicals are not being tested for. The levels detected were low, but DEET, and similar pesticides break down very slowly, if at all. In larger urban areas, these chemicals could be entering water supply wells and boreholes at potentially harmful levels.

The level of risk is just not known yet, but this research has raised an important warning flag. However, relatively simple measures, such as well protection is critical, especially for shallow self supply boreholes.

A risk that is understood better is that from pathogens coming from sewage-polluted groundwater. This can lead to outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and many other diseases.The challenge is how to map and track this pollution to see where it is coming from and where it is going to.

Pathogens can’t be measured directly. The most common approach is to measure concentrations of faecal coliforms, but doing this has drawbacks: Coliforms are micro-organisms that have to be grown in ‘culture’ so that they can be counted. Coliforms also die more quickly than pathogens so groundwater sample tests may come back showing nothing, but in reality still be potentially harmful to health.

Field measurements of an amino acid, found in sewage, called tryptophan can be used to map and monitor pathogen contamination. Monitoring is done using fluorescence – shining a light through the water sample – so it can be done in realtime and doesn’t need regents. The work demonstraed that this monitoring method is quicker, cheaper and more accurate that than measuring faecal coliforms.

The fieldwork also showed that the drawdown from the supply wells is pulling in contamination from under the city, Kabwe. This has helped the town authority prioritise the control of informal settlements to the west of the town that is encroaching towards the well field for the town’s water supply.


AMGRAF: increasing the capability of households and communities to improve their own lives

Dr Elisabeth Oughton (Newcastle University) presented aspects of the work of the UPGro project: AMGRAF – Adaptive Management of Groundwater in Africa, with a focus on the work in Ethiopia.

It is working from the bottom up to develop and promote the uptake of community management of shallow groundwater management. The researchers looked carefully at the different roles of men and women because women have can potentially benefit a lot from better water technologies and management.

However, this approach needs to be owned by the water users, be scalable and relate the government structure for water. Governance approach was focused on semi structured interviews with key participants, to build mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities.

In Ethiopia, there are currently strong formal institutions for surface irrigation from federal to local (kebele) level but not for shallow groundwater.

Understanding power was central to understanding poverty. Capabilities are those things on which we draw to live a full life, so how can capabilities be enhanced from the individual and household level, up through the levels of governance to national government.

Overall, Elizabeth made it very clear that managing groundwater needs to be focused on the needs of the most vulnerable, and the importance of good governance informed by sound science.


41st IAH Congress – UPGro taking centre stage in the hydrogeological community

Today, the 41st Congress of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) gets underway in Marrakech, Morocco with a workshop on long term groundwater records.

The session is being led by Prof. Richard Taylor (University College London) and is part of the UPGro work on the Africa Groundwater Atlas. So far we have heard cases from Tunisia, USA, Australia, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania and Burkina Faso.


Many of these areas show similar trends of long term groundwater decline, punctuated by some periods of rapid recovery – often associated with very high rainfall and even flooding.

The impacts of abstraction for irrigation and of land use change are of concern in many of these areas. However, the picture is complicated by the vagaries of climate phenomena, such as El Niño, and the uncertain role of natural processes in the soils and rocks, the interaction with rivers and the effect of vegetation with roots that can reach down 40 metres or more down into the earth.

Long term understanding of groundwater is critical for the economies of many countries, whether for farmers at the foot of the High Atlas mountains in Morocco, or public water supply to Dodoma, the political capital of Tanzania.

Over the next week it will be exciting to see what the latest groundwater research can tell us about how to use this vital resource in a way that the wells don’t go dry.