Groundwater – the earth’s renewable wealth

By Sean Furey, Skat Foundation/RWSN/UPGro

Where does wealth come from? At its most basic, it is the difference between how much you invest in a product or service and how much you get from selling it. If the difference is positive you get wealth, if it is negative then you get trouble.

For a country like Zambia, the biggest source of wealth comes from underground: copper, oil and many other minerals and metals. Every aspect of our lives, from fertilisers, to homes, to solar panels depends on what can be dug from the ground. The scale on which mining and quarrying is done varies from a single person digging a hole, to the world’s largest machines demolishing mountains. Mining is also an economic activity that stretches from the very local to the most globalised trade.

In that context, groundwater can also be seen as a mineral resource on which the wealth of a country depends, so it was great that UPGro and RWSN were invited by the University of Zambia to run a special session on hydrogeology in Africa at the International Conference on Geology, Mining, Mineral and Groundwater Resources of the Sub-Saharan Africa, held in Livingstone, Zambia, in July.

The conference was opened by the President of Zambia, HE Edgar Lungu, who stressed the importance of groundwater and mineral resources to the economy, society and environment of Zambia and Africa more widely.

He was followed by a keynote speech by UPGro Ambassador, Dr Callist Tindimugaya of the Ministry of Water & Environment Uganda who gave the 400+ audience an overview of exciting groundwater initiatives happening across Africa, in particular highlighting UPGro, GRIPP, RWSN’s work on drilling professionalisation,the Africa Groundwater Network and the re-boot of the AMCOW Africa Groundwater Commission which took place the following week in Dar es Salaam.

One of the eye-opening facts that was presented by the government during the event that more than half of electricity generated in Zambia is used by the mining industry and most of that is used for de-watering mines – pumping water out of the ground and dumping it – contaminated – into rivers. Clearly a change in mindset is needed to see groundwater as a source of wealth to be used wisely for the benefit of all, not a problem that sends money pouring down the drain.

photos: Dr Callist Tindimugaya gives a keynote presentation on Groundwater Resources Management in Sub-Saharan Africa: Status, Challenges and Prospects.

UPGro-RWSN Special Session on Hydrogeology in Africa and Drilling Professionalisation

Morning:

Afternoon:

Promising new groundwater pollution sensor – New UPGro paper published

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Field test set-up and data output from the MFC biosensor monitoring. A) The diagram shows an aerial view of the system configuration and distance between sensing system and data collection system. B) MFC1 and MFC2 were biosensors placed on the well; MFC3 and MFC4 were control biosensors placed in a vessel simulating the groundwater well. MFC3 and MFC4 were located in a room close to the well and the arrow indicates when they were intentionally contaminated. Monitoring of the sensors contained in the well lasted for 60 days obtaining the same trend as for the period shown.

Shallow groundwater wells, are the main source of drinking water in many rural and peri-urban communities.

The quantity and variety of shallow wells located in such communities make them more readily accessible than private or government operated deep boreholes, but shallow wells are more susceptible to faecal contamination, which is often due to leaching pit latrines.

For this reason, online monitoring of water quality in shallow wells, in terms of faecal pollution, could dramatically improve understanding of acute health risks in unplanned peri-urban settlements.

More broadly, inexpensive online faecal pollution risk monitoring is also highly relevant in the context of managed aquifer recharge via the infiltration of either stormwater or treated wastewater into the subsurface for aquifer storage and recovery.

 To tackle this challenge, IN-GROUND – an UPGro Catalyst Project – trialled four different types of Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) water quality biosensor in the lab (Newcastle University, UK) and in the field (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania).  

While further work is needed, the results provided proof-of-concept that these biosensors can provide continuous groundwater quality monitoring at low cost and without need for additional chemicals or external power input.

 Full details of the work can be founded in this open access paper: Velasquez-Orta SB, Werner D, Varia J, Mgana S. Microbial fuel cells for inexpensive continuous in-situ monitoring of groundwater quality. Water Research 2017, 117, 9-17. 

 For more details contact Dr Sharon Velasquez-Orta 

UPGro Catalyst Researcher recognised as a leading ‘Innovator under 35’ by MIT Technology Review

Dr Sharon Velasquez Orta (Newcastle University) has been recognised by the MIT Technology Review as one the leading “Innovators under 35” for 2015 for her work on developing a low-cost biosensor of measuring groundwater quality. In the UPGro Catalyst project (INGROUND), she and colleagues from Newcastle University and Ardhi University have been developing the sensor in the lab and trialling it in Tanzania:

“Her biosensor detects fecal contamination in water reserves destined for human consumption”

“In low resource areas, like sub-saharan Africa, the absence of water quality data poses a serious risk. For this reason, Sharon Velasquez has harnessed the degradation process undertaken by some organic bacteria to generate electricity which allows her biosensor to detect fecal contamination within the water source.

“The microbial fuel cells (MFC) that Velasquez uses work like batteries, the difference being that with MFCs the current flow is generated by the electrically charged components that batteries produce upon charging.

“In this way it is possible to create sensors that detect the organic material present in the medium as the bacteria begins to metabolize the organic material.

“Velasquez´s biosensor is characteristic due to its cylindrical shape which allows the resulting chemical reaction to happen directly in the environment.

“This technology aims to address the issue of fecal contamination of water supplies, given that this cannot be continuously controlled via existing systems because the detection process is lengthier and requires greater human resources.”

The INGROUND project is due for completion later this year.

Source: http://innovatorsunder35.com/innovator/sharon-vel%C3%A1squez (accessed 13.08.2015)

UPGro invited by UNICEF to present at the UN Zaragoza Conference

(with thanks to John Chilton, Sharon Velasquez-Orta and Jose Gesti-Canuto)

The UN-Water Annual Zaragoza Conferences serve UN-Water to prepare for World Water Day, which in 2015 will focus on “water and sustainable development” and celebrated the end of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’, so it was especially important for taking stock of and learning from achievements as well as planning the next steps.

The meeting brought together the UN agencies working in water and invited stakeholders from governments, business, civil society, academia and the media to talk about water scarcity and water quality, risk and risk management and WASH in terms of lessons learnt from the Waterforlife Decade and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to take them forward to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the theme “Academia contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals related to water” on the 16th January, the was a session titled “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Tools for WASH implementation from an equity lens”, led by Jose Gesti-Canuto, with short presentations by three UPGro collaborators:

Continue reading UPGro invited by UNICEF to present at the UN Zaragoza Conference