African aquifers can protect against climate change

Floods and droughts, feasts and famines: the challenge of living with an African climate has always been its variability, from the lush rainforests of the Congo to the extreme dry of the Sahara and Namib deserts. In north western Europe, drizzle and rain is generally spread quite evenly across the year, as anyone who has gone camping in British summer will tell you. But when annual rainfall happens within just a few months or weeks of the year then it is a massive challenge for farmers, towns and industry to access enough water through long dry seasons and to protect themselves and their land from flooding and mudslides when the rains come.

New research[1] suggests that Africa’s aquifers could be the key to managing water better. Professor Richard Taylor at UCL explains: “What we found is that groundwater in tropical regions – and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular – is primarily replenished from intense rainfall events – heavy downpours. This means that aquifers are an essential way of storing the heavy rain from the rainy season for use during the dry season, and for keeping rivers flowing.”

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10 things to know about groundwater: #2

Hidden Treasure: 10 reasons to know more about groundwater / 2 priorities to take seriously – briefing note

GROUNDWATER is the water stored in the pores and other openings in rocks below ground. It is a precious resource which must be safeguarded for the benefit of mankind.

recharge

2. However, from a water resource point of view, what matters is how much natural replenishment, or recharge, takes place

Recharge rates vary from a few to hundreds of millimetres per year. In dry regions recharge ranges from zero to a few mm per year.

In humid regions recharge rates represent a higher proportion of rainfall.

Find out more:

What you can do:

Join the conversation through the RWSN Sustainable Groundwater Development community: https://dgroups.org/RWSN/groundwater_rwsn

Tropical groundwater resources resilient to climate change

Tropical groundwater may prove to be a climate-resilient source of freshwater in the tropics as intense rainfall favours the replenishment of these resources, according to a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.

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How to… design roads for water harvesting and groundwater recharge

Road construction affects the hydrology of an area; causes erosion, flooding, water logging (photo: Meta Meta Research)
Road construction affects the hydrology of an area; causes erosion, flooding, water logging (photo: Meta Meta Research)

Roads can devastate a landscape – scarring it, creating barriers for wildlife and accelerating stormwater so that valuable farmland, habitats and homes get washed away or polluted. What if didn’t have to be that way? What if roads would work with the grain of nature rather than against it?

One of the UPGro teams, lead by Frank van Steenbergen, at Meta Meta Research, has being doing just that. Over the last year, their UPGro Catalyst project has been researching how roads can be used for rainwater harvesting on a landscape scale to recharge aquifers and ponds for later use in the dry seasons.

Working closely with the Mekelle University and the Government of Ethiopia, Frank and his team (including the Institute for Development Studies) has not only been testing the theory but they have been putting into practice. In the region of Tigray, the methods of road design have captured imaginations as well as water and now the government is keen to roll these ideas out further around the country.

The Catalyst project is now complete and a number of resources are now available online:

The principles have also been explained in a recent RWSN-UPGro webinar on groundwater recharge

Roads for Water: Effecting Change in Tigray, Ethiopia

from the WaterChannel:

Question: How can dusty roads provide water?
Answer: By harvesting and storing rainwater when it falls on them. 

A 30 mm rainfall over a 1-kilometre stretch of road can produce up to 100,000 litres of water. This number points to a huge potential. And not one that has not been adequately tapped (around 7 billion USD are spent on road construction in sub-Saharan Africa alone).

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New Paper – Roads for water: the unused potential

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A new paper by Diego Garcia-Landarte Puertas, Kifle Woldearegay, Lyla Mehta, Martin Van Beusekom, Marta Agujetas Peréz and Frank Van Steenbergen from the Catalyst Project: Optimising Road Development for Groundwater Recharge and Retention

Download the open access Waterlines paper from Practical Action.

Abstract:

“Roads are generally perceived as infrastructure to deliver transport services, but they are more than that. They are major interventions in the hydrology of areas where they are constructed – concentrating runoff and altering subsurface flows. At present, water-related damage constitutes a major cost factor in road maintenance. Using ongoing research from Ethiopia, this article argues to reverse this and turn water from a foe into a friend and integrate water harvesting with road development.

Continue reading New Paper – Roads for water: the unused potential