Rapid urban population growth has led to a boom in private well construction to access groundwater supplies. Evidence from four Indian cities highlights the need for coherent public policy to harmonise private and public investment in urban water supply. By Mohammad Faiz Alam and Stephen Foster.
by Sean Furey (Skat/UPGro Knowledge Broker) in GeoDrilling International
Drilling for water is only useful if there is good water to be had now and into the future. Since 2013, researchers in the UK-funded programme Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor, have been working all over Africa to understand better the continent’s aquifers and how their hidden wealth can be used to benefit everyone. Now after years of patient work, exciting results and resources are emerging.
One is that the Africa Groundwater Atlas, curated by the British Geological Survey now has downloadable GIS maps for 38 countries. They are quite large scale, so not detailed enough for individual borehole siting, but a good starting point for identifying where major aquifers are. This supports the wealth of other useful information, in English and French, on the soils, climate and groundwater use in all 52 of Africa’s countries.
Industry is growing along Kenya’s coast, and some of these companies – such as mining and agricultural companies – are water intensive. To meet their demand, most industries are turning to groundwater.
Groundwater is a natural resource that exists beneath the earth’s surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. It can be stored in, or move through, aquifers: a body of permeable rock – like gravel or sand.
Groundwater has many intrinsic advantages: it can be developed quickly (and at a relatively low cost), it’s easy to find, it’s drought resilient and can meet water needs on demand. This has made it a crucial component in rural water supply, and for industry.
The problem is, even though Kenya has policies, laws, and institutions that are specifically dedicated to managing groundwater, in practice, groundwater is treated as a common pool resource, belonging to whoever owns the land overlying the aquifer. The majority of water users ignore the potential long-term consequences of unregulated use.
This is what’s happening in Kwale county, on the southern coast of Kenya. Over half a billion US dollars in capital investment has been made in two water-reliant industries in Kwale: heavy sands mining and commercial sugarcane. In addition to this Kwale also hosts significant tourism.
Because aquifers in Kenya are not always properly managed, my colleagues and I wanted to know how increased abstraction of groundwater by industries could affect local communities that use groundwater as their main water supply.
We found that, at the moment, the new industries are not affecting the water supply for local communities. What is affecting the community wells are long drought periods, such as the last drought which lasted from 2016 to early 2017. The consequences of dry wells are that people have to walk further to get water, and water becomes more expensive to buy.
For industry, understanding investor risk and liability for groundwater sustainability would seem prudent, if not a legal obligation, before major abstraction starts.
Our research shows that groundwater resources can be significant and resilient to unpredictable but recurrent drought events, if understood and managed properly.
We focused our study on the Msambweni aquifer, located on the coast of Kwale county in Kenya. This aquifer system is composed of a shallow aquifer (about 25 metres thick) and a deep aquifer below this shallow aquifer (about 350 metres thick).
The shallow aquifer is recharged by rain through the ground surface and the deep aquifer is recharged by water that flows underground from the Shimba Hills.
The shallow aquifer is mainly exploited by the local rural communities and the hotels located near the coastline. The deep aquifer is exploited by the mining and sugar operations.
The communities rely heavily on shallow groundwater, which they get from wells or by using a handpump in a borehole, because they don’t have piped water, and water from the two main rivers in the area is not considered safe to drink. Also, in the 1980s, the Swedish International Development Agency installed hundreds of handpumps at boreholes in Kwale county.
Industries now also rely on groundwater. But they use new boreholes, equipped with electrical pumps, that reach the deep aquifer. These have higher abstraction rates than traditional dug wells or shallow boreholes equipped with handpumps.
When investigating whether these users are using the groundwater sustainably, it’s important to point out that sustainability is variable through time. Not all water users exploit the same aquifer layers.
At present, the main industries in the area exploit the deep aquifer because it’s more resilient to drought. So the industries aren’t affecting the shallow community wells.
However, this could change. If droughts become more frequent, or last longer, there will be less groundwater stored.
It’s important to highlight the data challenges we faced, and how we reached our findings.
We tried to define the groundwater abstraction of all the main users, but couldn’t. As in many other countries, abstraction data for wells and boreholes is difficult to get.
So we needed to come up with a new methodology to estimate how much abstraction was happening in areas with uncertain or no data.
Collaboration between stakeholders during this study was essential.
Most of the time, water-reliant users such as the industries collect specific hydrogeological information, like aquifer storage or how much they pump, because they’re trying to use the water efficiently.
We also identified hotels, noted the number of their rooms and interviewed hotel managers to estimate tourism abstraction along the coast using easy tools like Google Earth and TripAdvisor.
Alongside this, it was important to develop a monitoring network, covering the whole aquifer area. We used well measurements to get an idea of the aquifer system, its volume and dynamics, and assess the sustainability of abstraction.
While this data pointed to a scenario where industry was having a minimal impact, things could change.
Enterprises and government may find environmental sustainability of secondary importance to advancing economic production, creating local jobs and new sources of taxation. Government leadership is needed to manage the aquifer as a system for all, including environmental services, rather than for the powerful few.
Albert Folch, Mike Lane, Daniel Olago, Jacob Katuva, Patrick Thomson, Sonia Jou, Rob Hope and Emilio Custodio were key contributors to this study
Nuria Ferrer Ramos, Hydrogeologist, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech
This study was funded from the UK Government via NERC, ESRC and DFID as part of the Gro for GooD project (UPGro Consortium Grant: NE/M008894/1). Nuria Ferrer is affiliated with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (DECA), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Jordi Girona 1-3, 08034 Barcelona, Spain. Associated Unit: Hydrogeology Group (UPC-CSIC), Spain.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PAMACC News) – Delegates at the Africa Climate Risks Conference have been informed that groundwater is more resilient to extreme climatic conditions especially in arid and semi arid areas, contrary to earlier beliefs – that the resource was vulnerable to the changing climatic conditions.
“Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Africa, we analysed the relationship between climate change and variability and groundwater in 14 sites in Africa,” Martin Todd, a Professor of Climate Change at the University of Sussex, Department of Geography.
“What we found is that in arid regions, there was episodic recharge, which occur mainly as a result of intense storms that happen every few years, and sometimes even in years of low total precipitation,” said
This, according to the scientist, it means that climate plays a dominant role in controlling the process by which groundwater is restocked.
Generally, it means that extreme periodic flooding is what recharges aquifers in such arid and semi arid areas, providing a lifeline and livelihoods for people who depend on groundwater in such areas.
The findings, which have since been published in the Nature scientific journal contradicts the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that ‘climate change over the twenty-first century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions, intensifying competition for water among sectors.’
According to Prof Todd, groundwater is generally overlooked in terms of climate impact, and it is also an overlooked resource in Africa and underutilised compared to other continents.
“With the rapid population growth and quest for development, there is going to be huge demand on water resources, and therefore we expect that groundwater is a resource that will be heavily developed in the future because climate change and variability is going to place increasing threat to surface water,” he said.
The new findings from the study, which was supported by the United Kingdom research councils (Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), the Department for International Development (DFID) and The Royal Society also highlight the need for improvements in models of climate and hydrology.
The report indicates that climate models that can better predict the variability and intensity of precipitation events at the local scale, as well as the large scale, would allow hydrological models to better represent replenishment processes.
Given a fact that extreme floods can be predicted up to nine months in advance, the researchers say that there is a possibility of designing schemes to enhance groundwater recharge by capturing a portion of flood discharges via a process known as Managed Aquifer Recharge.
According to the British Geological survey, successful and sustainable development of groundwater resources in Africa is critical for future safe water supplies, economic growth and food security in the continent.
The findings have come at a time several cities across the continent are beginning to exploit the groundwater, which has for long been considered a hidden resource.
So far, groundwater plays a central role in sustaining water supplies and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa due to its widespread availability, generally high quality, and intrinsic ability to buffer episodes of drought and increasing climate variability.
Given the drying rivers and streams, and unpredictable rainfall patterns, groundwater is likely going to be a golden resource in Africa’s rural communities both for domestic consumption and irrigation.
Photo: Isaiah Esipisu
UPGro Grofutures /Cardiff University work is featured in this month’s print and online version of Geographical Magazine, the popular science magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), in London.
Humans take the water we need, be it for drinking or irrigation, from one of two sources: surface water, contained in lakes, rivers and reservoirs; and groundwater, in which water flows through porous rocks beneath the ground. In the UK, how much we rely on the latter depends on where we live and the type of rock which makes up the land (not at all in Scotland; quite a bit in London, where groundwater is rising in parts). But in much of sub-Saharan Africa, groundwater is a vital resource. It is often the only source of clean drinking water in rural areas and its use is also increasing in cities. Working out how groundwater levels will react to climate change is therefore vital.
BGS Press Release
Installing more boreholes to tap underground water will improve rural Ethiopian
communities’ resilience to drought, according to a new report.
Research carried out by the British Geological Survey (BGS), the University of Addis Ababa and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) showed that people who have access to groundwater from boreholes are much less affected by drought than those who rely on wells or springs for their water supply. The report also links the shortage of water to:
- conflict in local areas
- a decline in breastfeeding rates
- a rise in miscarriage rates
- more children missing school
Groundwater experts from the BGS monitored 19 hand-dug wells, springs and boreholes in two districts in northern Ethiopia over 18 months. They also held focus-group discussions with local people, including school and health centre staff, near each of the groundwater sources.
The team found that boreholes drilled to 50–100 m were the most reliable source of water during the extended drought of 2015–16 and through the dry season.
Prof Alan MacDonald, the BGS hydrogeologist who led the research, said: ‘We found that
boreholes equipped with hand pumps were more reliable than springs or hand-dug wells, and this reliability was not affected by drought or seasonal change. As hand-dug wells dried up and springs failed, the boreholes we monitored gave exactly the same flow throughout the year.
‘Boreholes also had better water quality. As the drought ended and rain started falling many of the springs and hand-dug wells became grossly contaminated. The boreholes performed much better, with less than half of them showing any level of contamination.
‘Our findings make a clear case for the installation of more boreholes to improve resilience to drought. If constructed carefully and regularly maintained, boreholes can transform the water security for rural villages and make them much more resilient to the effects of climate change.’
Dr Seifu Kebede, from Addis Ababa University’s earth sciences department, said:
‘A significant finding of our study is the length of time people without boreholes spent in water collection during the dry season and drought, and the very low volumes of water they were able to collect.
‘People were routinely queuing for up to 10 hours, which led to tension and sometimes violence, and had wide-ranging impact across communities. Women breastfed less and experienced more miscarriages, meals were missed and farm work was reduced to help collect water. School attendance was down in all but one district, as children were involved in water collection. All health centres in the study area reported increases in diseases, and, in some cases, employees were paying for water collection to keep the centres functioning.
‘We must look at how communities source water during a normal dry season to predict how they will cope during drought years. This study shows that boreholes, where they can be installed, could be the most reliable source of groundwater in these areas of northern Ethiopia.’
According to the BGS’s African Groundwater Atlas, Ethiopia has a high potential for groundwater in the highland regions due to the mostly permeable rocks. A major challenge, however, is the rugged terrain, which can hinder the movement of drilling rigs.
The project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department for International Development (DfID).
For further details please contact:
Sarah McDaid (firstname.lastname@example.org/07866789688)
This week, groundwater experts from around the world will be attending a meeting of GRIPP at the SIWI World Water Week to discuss how to governments and aid agencies can take evidence like this into account when designing and implementing their policies and projects, and specifically around an exciting new groundwater initiative with the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW)
Karen G. Villholth is a Principal Researcher with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), as well as Coordinator of the Global Groundwater Initiative GRIPP and a team member from UPGro GroFutures
New research reveals critical groundwater-related climate change impacts and resilience strategies
In 2014-2016, southern Africa saw its worst drought in decades, resulting from the most severe El Niño event in half a century. Leading to sharp declines in crop production, the drought dealt a severe blow to food security, with millions of people across the larger Pacific region facing hunger, poverty and disease.
Nature’s unseen water resource
While we all know groundwater is a key water resource for farmers, small communities and larger cities alike in sub-Saharan Africa, it is largely missing from existing analysis of climate change impacts on water. Yet, Cape Town, which was greatly supported by groundwater development in its struggle to push back Day Zero when the city was projected to run out of water, shows us that groundwater is key to resilience.
But how does this unseen and relatively untapped resource in sub-Saharan Africa itself react to climate change? This may be the ultimate question as our water resources are finite, increasingly scarce and increasingly in demand. If African countries are to rely on groundwater for future resilience and manage it sustainably, they must quickly gain a better understanding of climate change impacts on this critical resource.
El Niño and extreme rainfall-triggered groundwater replenishment
A recent study sheds new light on the climate-groundwater relationship, finding that the 2015-2016 El Niño weather event replenished groundwater very differently in southern Africa and in East Africa just below the equator. Based on a combination of satellite and on-site data analysis, it is part of a growing body of research, to which the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is contributing, in collaboration with UK partners such as University College London, Cardiff University, University of Sussex, and British Geological Survey, as well as others in southern and eastern Africa.
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO phenomenon, involves the interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean in the tropical Pacific. It is a telling cause of climate variability in the tropics. As an extreme case among historical patterns, the 2015-2016 event had exactly opposite effects on rainfall in southern Africa and East Africa below the equator.
In southern Africa, it resulted in the most intense drought ever recorded for the region, estimated to recur every 200 years.
The authors note that warming caused by human activities has heightened climate risks. They suggest that this has already “doubled the risk of such an extreme… event,” meaning such an intense drought could return every 100 years. The 2015-2016 drought limited the recharge of aquifers and increased demand for groundwater leading to a decline in groundwater storage.
In contrast, East Africa, just south of the equator, saw unusually high – but not extreme – rainfall, likely to recur every 10 years. With 100-150% above normal daily rainfall intensity in many places, this significantly boosted groundwater recharge and storage. At the Makutapora well field in Tanzania, for example, strong groundwater recharge reversed a long-term decline in groundwater storage that had resulted from increasingly intensive pumping to the growing city of Dodoma.
Another new study published in Nature underpins the importance of extreme rain events in restocking groundwater in drylands in sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than being replenished through regular rainfall, groundwater responds best to extreme rainfall events – the type that happens every 10 years or so, and is often associated with large scale climate phenomena like ENSO. The research also found that, since groundwater in drylands is recharged where rain accumulates in surface water bodies such as rivers and ponds, replenishment is further accentuated by more intense rainfall events associated with climate change.
Getting the better of climate change
Sub-Saharan countries are rapidly developing their groundwater resources, and these figure importantly in national development plans aimed at supplying cities with drinking water and enabling farmers to intensify production. Whether such plans come to fruition will depend on sustainable management of groundwater. Indeed, water managers need to understand how climate change impacts groundwater under different conditions and how they can best respond.
Techniques referred to as “managed aquifer recharge”, can channel and capture water runoff from intense rainfall events to more quickly and efficiently replenish groundwater. Thus, when climactic events increase rainfall, water managers and users across Africa can use such techniques to boost groundwater supply.
The extreme events can be predicted with some certainty and with seasonal lead times to help farmers and managers prepare. Combined with efficient resource use and safe wastewater reuse, communities and countries can better adapt to the more severe and frequent droughts, as well as floods, that are sure to come. With these approaches and opportunities, we can help harness the climate solutions that lie underground in the drylands in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
Photo: A borehole in Kenya’s Turkana County. Experts say that groundwater in drylands is recharged through extreme floods. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS
Nature reveals that these dangerous events are extremely significant in recharging groundwater aquifers in drylands across sub-Saharan Africa, making them important for climate change adaptation.– Extreme rainfall and heavy flooding, often amplified by climate change, causes devastation among communities. But new research published on Aug. 7 in the scientific journal
By ISAIAH ESIPISU
Mention of the word El Niño sends shivers to several communities in Africa who live in lowland areas. However, these extreme rainfall phenomena are exactly what Dodoma desperately needs to sustain lives of the speedy growing population in Tanzania’s capital city.
A team of local and international scientists from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and University College London (UCL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation including the WamiRuvu Basin Water Board have been studying the Makutapora well-field (the only source of water for Dodoma city) to understand how the groundwater responds to different climatic conditions and human consumption.
“Based on the results, the government will be in a position to make informed decisions on whether to keep abstracting water only from Makutapora or find supplementary sources of water to meet the ever growing demand,” Lister Kongola, retired government hydrologist
“Through our research, we are seeking to understand groundwater resources in Makutapora, the renewability, the sustainability and critically how people use this precious resource,” said Richard Taylor, a professor of hydrogeology at the UCL and the Principal Investigator for a project known as GroFutures.
And after a few years of intensive research, the scientists have discovered that the well-field found in an area mainly characterised by usually seasonal rivers, vegetation such as acacia shrubs, cactus trees, baobab among others that thrive in dryland areas can only be recharged during extreme floods that often destroy agricultural crops and even property.
Dodoma became Tanzania’s capital city in 1974, though the administrative offices remained in Dar Es Salaam. Given a fact that the entire Dodoma region is semi-arid with an average annual rainfall of 550 mm, the current population of about 500,000 residents entirely rely on groundwater from the Makutapora well-field, from which they pump out 61 million litres of water every day, according to government records.
However, since 2016 when President John Pombe Magufuli issued an executive order to relocate all government ministries and institutions as well as diplomatic offices from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the city has become a beehive of activities as people and authorities rush to put in place the right infrastructure to accommodate the expected rise in population.
As a result, the demand for water is expected to rise amid the changing climatic conditions, putting much more pressure on the Makutapora well-field.
“Makutapora is quite a special site, given that it is the longest known groundwater level record in Sub Saharan Africa,” said Prof Taylor. “A study of the well-field over the past 60 years reveals that recharge sustaining the daily pumping of water for use in Dodoma city occurs episodically and depends on heavy seasonal rainfall associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation,” said the professor.
So far, according to the loggers (data registering equipments) installed in several monitoring wells within the Makurapora basin, the water level has been declining since 2016 when the positive recharge was recorded following the 2015-16 El Niño rains. The scientists attribute the decline to heavy abstraction of the water for domestic use, but also, the researchers are in the process of finding out if tough climatic conditions, changes and variations could be another factor.
“In the end of the year 2015, we installed river stage gauges to record the amount of water in the streams. Through this, we can monitor an hourly resolution of the river flow and how the water flow is linked to groundwater recharge,” said Dr David Seddon, a research scientist from UCL.
According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked for the government from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in Dodoma has been rising over the years, from 20 million litres in the 1970s, to 30 million in the 80s and to the current 61 million litres per day at the moment.
“With most government offices now relocating from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the establishment of the University of Dodoma and other institutions of higher learning, health institutions, and emergence of several hotels in the city, the demand is likely going to double in the coming few years.
Already, President Magufuli has issued 62 land title deeds for construction of diplomatic missions and five others to accredited global organisations to facilitate the shift from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma.
“The ongoing study is a stitch in time,” said Kongola. “Based on the results, the government will be in a position to make informed decisions on whether to keep abstracting water only from Makutapora or find supplementary sources of water to meet the ever growing demand,” he said.
One of the alternative options would be to construct dams and also explore alternative sites with reliable aquifers. The other option is to pump water all the way from Lake Victoria which is over 600 kilometres away from Dodoma.
The good news, however, is that seasons with El Niño kind of rainfall are predictable. “By anticipating these events, we can actually amplify them through some very minimal but strategic engineering intervention that might allow us to actually increase the amount of water replenishment in the well-field,” said Prof Taylor.
Also read and listen to:
- Scientists look underground for a solution to feed the ever growing population in Africa
- Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa
- Download now: Groundwater’s Contribution to Water Security in Africa
by Isaiah Esipisu and Dr Jan Willem Foppen (T-GroUP)
- The study found that most groundwater in the two slums contains traces of herpes virus, poxvirus and papilloma virus.
- Cancer is one of the top killer diseases in East Africa, blamed for nearly 100,000 deaths every year.
Researchers from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and their peers from Uganda and Tanzania have found traces of 25 DNA virus families — some of them with adverse health risk for humans — in underground water in the slums of Kampala and Arusha.
The study, whose findings were presented at the Assembly of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna on Monday, found that most groundwater in the two slums contains traces of herpes virus, poxvirus and papilloma virus.
The latter could be one of the causes of cancer in East Africa.
“These viruses have never been found on such a large scale in ground water. Perhaps it is because there has never been an in-depth analysis,” said Dr Jan Willem Foppen, one of the lead researchers and a hydrologist at the IHE Delft — the largest graduate water education institution on the planet.
Cancer is one of the top killer diseases in East Africa, blamed for nearly 100,000 deaths every year.
According to the latest report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, some 32,617 new cases were reported in Uganda last year, with 21,829 deaths.
In the same period, Kenya recorded 47,887 new cases and 32,987 deaths while there were 42,060 new cases in Tanzania with 28,610 deaths.
Scientists have therefore expressed concerns that the widespread use of groundwater in slums for cooking, cleaning and bathing poses a risk for the residents.
In the two-year study, the scientists analysed surface water (river and drain), spring water, wells and piezometers (groundwater from specific depth) in the three countries.
“We found 25 DNA virus families, of which 14 are from above ground hosts like frogs, mice, rats, cows, horses, monkeys and humans,” Dr Foppen said.
Of the human disease causing pathogens found in the samples, herpes virus and poxviruses can lead to skin infections while the papilloma cause some types of cancers such as cervical, laryngeal and mouth.
“This could be just a tip of the iceberg. We have not found all the viruses. We found the most abundant ones,” Dr Fopen said.
“Let’s do something about sanitation. Let us improve our sources of drinking water and identify new pathways with communities towards sustainability.”
Versions of this article have been published in:
- The Daily Nation (Kenya)
- The East African (Kenya)
- BBC news
- The EastAfrican newspaper
- German Radio – Deutchlandfunk
- The Independent Nigeria
Further papers and data will be published soon.