Drilling dialogues: conversations about drilling professionalism and the rise of the off-grid city

by Adrian Healy, Cardiff University, UK

The African Water Association Congress 2020 witnessed an increasing focus on the important role groundwater plays in urban water supplies across Africa. It was my pleasure to facilitate two lively panel debates on what are important, but often overlooked, themes in the development of groundwater resources. The first panel considered professionalism in the drilling industry whilst the second discussed the increasing number of urban households commissioning their own boreholes.

Callist
Callist Tindimugaya and Kerstin Danert discuss drilling professionalism (Photo: A. Healy)

The drilling industry includes a range of professions and roles ranging from the owner of a drilling company, through drilling operators to hydrogeologists and drilling supervisors. The skills and experience required can vary substantially, depending on the hydrogeology involved and the nature of the boreholes being drilled. What does not vary are the negative impacts poor drilling professionalism can have, on borehole functionality. This results in losses to those who commission boreholes and, potentially, adverse implications for groundwater quality. Across Africa there is also a shift in who is commissioning boreholes. What was once the preserve of governments, firms and donor bodies is now increasingly witnessing direct action by households themselves.

Although, there are examples of good practice across the African continent, panellists recognised that there is are problems with professionalism. This can be due to a lack of experience of the drillers and supervisors, as well pressures to reduce costs. All too often experience is gained only through what can be gleaned ‘on-the-job’ leading to skills-decay across the profession over time. The privatisation of the drilling industry has exacerbated the situation as there are few incentives to encourage investments in training, and limited places where training occurs. Where the ground is easy to penetrate and water is relatively shallow, manual drilling techniques can be used. This means that skills gap becomes more acute as competition by low-cost drillers erodes the potential value of investments in training and skills development.

Panellists argued that a professional drilling industry requires strong regulation by government. Drilling companies should be licensed and boreholes should be assessed for the quality of construction. Competition amongst drilling companies should be based on minimum standards and not reward cost-cutting and poor employment conditions. Government can also support the provision of training facilities.

In Uganda, experienced drillers now provide the benefit of their knowledge to a new generation of professionals, which builds on the legacy of past investments in training (e.g. http://www.rural-water-supply.net/en/resources/details/876). A wider challenge is raising awareness of the skills and expertise required to successfully access groundwater through boreholes amongst government officials and the wider public. This highlights the importance of a broader debate on the theme of groundwater and urban water supplies.

The critical role played by the wider public was also discussed by the second panel in the context of the remarkable rise in the proportion of urban households commissioning their own boreholes in many African countries. Although official figures are hard to find, both the panellists and the audience recognised this to be a rising trend across many cities in Africa. Rapid rates of urbanisation have left many with no access to public piped water supplies, or with only erratic and unpredictable supplies. In these circumstances, households source their own water supplies. For many households, groundwater forms an accessible, convenient and reliable source of water, even in countries where officially this is not permitted.

Panellists felt that the implications of this rising trend of urban self-supply are not yet clear. There are social and economic benefits for those who are able to access a reliable source of water, but with potential costs for those who are excluded. Debates on the potential costs of lost revenue to water utilities were inconclusive, as households often act because they are not being reliably supplied by a utility. Where there is a proliferation of borehole development then the potential impacts to the groundwater resource were acknowledged to be substantive. However, little is known of the quality of borehole construction or overall abstraction rates at present. Panellists indicated that anecdotal evidence points to a lack of awareness amongst urban populations of the importance of good groundwater management and highlighted that, when this is combined with poor professionalism in the drilling industry, there are risks for the resource. An emerging concern is the number of abandoned boreholes, which tend to be left unsealed, associated with urban self-supply and poor drilling professionalism.

Chikondi
Chikondi Shaba speaks about urban water self-supply (photo: A. Healy)

The panel discussion served to highlight the importance of this crucial topic, but recognised that a lack of robust data limits the opportunities for informed debate. In the absence of data, panellists argued that the rise of off-grid access to groundwater imperilled the stewardship of the groundwater resource on which many cities now relied. Returning to the theme of the first panel, panellists stressed how education, communication and engagement with the wider public was as important for good groundwater stewardship as technical skills and strategies.

Our thanks to Skat Foundation, the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment, the Ugandan Drilling Contractors Association and UK Research and Innovation for supporting this session. We thank each of the participants: Callist Tindimugaya, Kerstin Danert, Michael Ale, Jenny Grönwall, Moshood Tijani; Chikondi Shaba and Moustapha Diene.

Adrian Healy researches urban water resilience in sub-Saharan Africa. He is based at Cardiff University in the UK. He can be contacted at Healya2@cardiff.ac.uk

New UPGro paper: Better map-making for manual drilling in West Africa

In a new open paper in the Hydrogeological Journal, Dr Fabio Fussi and his UPGro Catalyst team present work done in Senegal that looks at how improving hydrogeological data, maps and understanding can improve the success of manually drilled boreholes.

In a region where access to safe, affordable water is limited, manual drilling provides a cost-effective way of tapping groundwater resources. However, aquifers are complex and striking fresh water is not guaranteed.

20140625_170547
Manual drilling in Lagos, Nigeria (photo: Dotun Adekile, 2014)

Fussi and his team propose a model that uses analysis of borehole logs for the to characterise shallow aquifers  so that areas suitable for manual drilling can be found. The model is based on available borehole-log parameters: depth to hard rock, depth to water, thickness of laterite (a iron-rich rock type common in the tropics) and hydraulic properties of the shallow aquifer. The model was applied to a study area in northwestern Senegal.

The hydraulic conductivity values – how easily water flows through rock –  were estimated from geological data and  partially validated by comparing them with measured values from a series of pumping tests carried out in large-diameter wells.

The results show that this method is able to produce a reliable interpretation of the shallow hydrogeological context using information generally available in the region.

The research contributes to improving the identification of areas where conditions are suitable for manual drilling, and has the potential to be used throughout Africa, and beyond, using data available in most African countries.

Ultimately, this work will support proposed international programs aimed at promoting low-cost water supply in Africa and enhancing access to safe drinking water for the population.

Drilling in Kampala started

 re-posted from:t-group.science

There are three urban areas in which T-GroUP is active and, while most of the drilling activities in Dodowa and Arusha have been completed, in Kampala it took some time to get permissions. At first, the Ministry of Water and Environment had to formally approve the project drilling activities, which they did. Then, the Kampala Capital City Authority required more information about the project before giving their formal go-ahead. Thirdly, the Local Councils had to be convinced of the usefulness of the work, and, finally, land owners and tenants had to approve of the installation of piezometers on their land for monitoring purposes. It took Dr. Robinah Kulabako and Dr. Philip Nyenje a good deal of energy to take all hurdles. But they finally succeeded! The process also served as a good and thorough entrance of the project into the local communities. On Wednesday April 6, PAT Drill Uganda started drilling the first hole near Makerere University towards the top of Makerere hill. While drilling, the team was visited by David MacDonald and Dan Lapworth of BGS, who were in Kampala in the framework of the HyCRISTAL project within the NERC/DFID funded Future Climate for Africa Programme.

John Okwi (left, with hat), the owner of PAT-DRILL Uganda, is supervising his team of drillers using a PAT-301 to drill through the weathered basement near the top of Makerere hill
John Okwi (left, with hat), the owner of PAT-DRILL Uganda, is supervising his team of drillers using a PAT-301 to drill through the weathered basement near the top of Makerere hill
A selfi at one of the drilling locations with David MacDonald, Jan Willem Foppen, Dan Lapworth and Philip Nyenje (from left to right).
A selfi at one of the drilling locations with David MacDonald, Jan Willem Foppen, Dan Lapworth and Philip Nyenje (from left to right).

How to get permission to drill in Kampala?

from t-group.science

Meanwhile in Kampala, Dr. Philip Nyenje and Dr. Robinah Kulabako had gone to request permission to drill at the Church premises on Makerere Hill going down to Bwaise slum. Permission was required in order to be able to install a transect of piezometers between Makerere Hill, the perceived groundwater recharge area, and Bwaise slum, the groundwater discharge area. After introducing T-GroUP, they had good discussions with the Vicar of the church regarding the project, community mobilisation and other ideas in the field of water supply. Then, the Vicar requested Philip and Robinah to formalise their request in writing and deliver to him the letter. Additionally, he also requested Robinah to be a Guest Speaker during Mary’s day at his church. Robinah was happy to take up this challenge, as she regarded it not only to be an opportunity to strengthen and augment collaboration within the project and between the project and the community, but giving a sermon would also contribute to shaping Robinah spiritually.

The sermon was on “Living Wisely” based on Ephesians 5:15-17. Robinah really enjoyed it and she was happy to do the needful, combine religion with science, and get permission to drill.

Groundwater Governance

10th March 2015

Two presentations followed extensive discussion. Groundwater risks and institutional responses in Kwale, Kenya (Jacob Katuva, Oxford University) and From Codes of Practice to a Code of Conduct – groundwater governance in Kenya from a drillers perspective (Tom Armstrong, JB Drilling). Practical issues of borehole design and construction, groundwater quality, gender and poverty as well as the realities of the Water Resource User Associations (WRUAs) in Kenya, and plans of the Kenya Water Industry Association (KWIA) were discussed.