“Groundwater levels in nine African countries raise hopes for a more resilient future” Geographical Magazine

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.

Read on here

Extreme Floods, the Key to Climate Change Adaptation in Africa’s Drylands

By Isaiah Esipisu  for the Inter Press Service

Photo: A borehole in Kenya’s Turkana County. Experts say that groundwater in drylands is recharged through extreme floods. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

TURKANA COUNTY, Kenya, Aug 8 2019 (IPS) – 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 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.

Continue reading Extreme Floods, the Key to Climate Change Adaptation in Africa’s Drylands

“Extreme floods to bring good tidings to Tanzania city” UPGro in The East African

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

LISTEN NOW: Prof Richard Taylor, the Principal Investigator for the GroFutures project explains what the project is all about in SoundCloud interview.

Africa’s population is projected to hit 2.4 billion come the year 2050. This means that demand for food is going to increase exponentially. But the challenge is that this is happening in the wake of the changing climatic conditions with a threat of reduced agricultural productivity, and the shrinking of arable land due to tough climatic conditions, quest for development, and human settlement.

To bridge the gap, scientists among other experts have pointed out that there is urgent need for investment in irrigation. This was the magic bullet for the green revolution that took place in Asia.

But the question is; where will the water for irrigation come from?

This is because since the 1960s, during the green revolution in Asia, there has been depletion of the groundwater in many countries due to over abstraction, and this is already a huge crisis.

To ensure sustainability of groundwater use in Africa and to avoid mistakes made during the green revolution in Asia, UPGro scientists have taken the challenge first, to study and understand how different major aquifers on the continent recharge, how they respond to different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already looking for appropriate ways of boosting the recharge for more sustainability.

Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures), a team of 40 scientists from Africa and abroad have teamed up to develop a scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation.

Also read: Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

photo (Credit Grofutures: Combined Benin-Niger GroFutures field team with supporters working in Goulbi-Maradi (left); Early Career scientists under GroFutures, Fabrice Lawson (UAC/IRD, Benin), Jean-Baptist Gnonhoue (IRD, Benin), Rabilou Mahaman (UAMN, Niger), and Boukari Issoufou (UAMN, Niger) running MRS experiments in Goulbi-Maradi (right).)

 

Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

by Isaiah Esipisu (via the Inter Press Service)

DODOMA, Tanzania, Jul 11 2019 (IPS) – Research scientists are studying groundwater resources in three African countries in order to understand the renewability of the source and how people can use it sustainably towards a green revolution in Africa.

“We don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes during the green revolution that has taken place in Asia, where people opted to use groundwater, then groundwater was overused and we ended up with a problem of sustainability,” said Richard Taylor, the principal investigator and a professor of Hydrogeology from the University College London (UCL).

Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures), a team of 40 scientists from Africa and abroad have teamed up to develop a scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation.

Though the study is still ongoing, scientists can now tell how and when different major aquifers recharge, how they respond to different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already looking for appropriate ways of boosting groundwater recharge for more sustainability.

“Our focus is on Tanzania, Ethiopia and Niger,” said Taylor. “These are three strategic laboratories in tropical Africa where we are expecting rapid development of agriculture and the increased need to irrigate,” he told IPS.

In Tanzania, scientists from UCL in collaboration with their colleagues from the local Sokoine University of Agriculture, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the WamiRuvu Basin Water Board, have been studying the Makutapora well field, which is the only source of water for the country’s capital city – Dodoma.

“This is demand-driven research because we have previously had conflicting data about the actual yield of this well field,” said Catherine Kongola, a government official who heads and manages a sub section of the WamiRuvu Basin in Central Tanzania. The WamiRuvu Basin comprises the country’s two major rivers of Wami and Ruvi and covers almost 70,000 square kilometres.

She notes that scientists are using modern techniques to study the behaviour of groundwater in relation to climate shocks and also human impact, as well as the quality of the water in different locations of the basin.

“Groundwater has always been regarded as a hidden resource. But using science, we can now understand how it behaves, and this will help with the formulation of appropriate policies for sustainability in the future,” she told IPS.

Already, the World Bank in collaboration with the Africa Development Bank intends to invest some nine billion dollars in irrigation on the African continent. This was announced during last year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum that was held in Kigali, Rwanda.

According to Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, boosting irrigation is key to improving agricultural productivity in Africa.

“In each of the areas where we are working, people are already looking at groundwater as a key way of improving household income and livelihoods, but also improving food security, so that people are less dependent on imported food,” said Taylor. “But the big question is; where does the water come from?”

Since the 1960s, during the green revolution in Asia, India relied heavily on groundwater for irrigation, particularly on rice and wheat, in order to feed the growing population. But today, depletion of the groundwater in the country has become a national crisis, and it is primarily attributed to heavy abstraction for irrigation.

The depletion crisis remains a major challenge in many other places on the globe, including the United States and China where intensive agriculture is practiced.

“It is based on such experiences that we are working towards reducing uncertainty in the renewability and quantity of accessible groundwater to meet future demands for food, water and environmental services, while at the same time promoting inclusion of poor people’s voices in decision-making processes on groundwater development pathways,” said Taylor.

After a few years of intensive research in Tanzania’s Makutapora well field, scientists have discovered that the well field—which is found in an area mainly characterised by seasonal rivers, vegetation such as acacia shrubs, cactus trees, baobab and others that thrive in dry areascan only be recharged during extreme floods that can also destroy agricultural crops and even property.

“By 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,” Dr David Seddon, a research scientist whose PhD thesis was based on the Makutapora well field, told IPS.

Taylor explains that Makutapora is known for having the longest-known groundwater level record in sub-Saharan Africa.

“A study of the well field over the past 60 years reveals that recharge sustaining the daily pumping of water for use in the city occurs episodically and depends on heavy seasonal rainfall associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation,” Taylor said.

According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked for the government from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in the nearby capital city of Dodoma has been rising over the years, from 20 million litres in the 1970s, to 30 million litres in the 1980s and to the current 61 million litres.

“With most government offices now relocating from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the establishment of the University of Dodoma, other institutions of higher learning and health institutions, and the emergence of several hotels in the city, the demand is likely going to double in the coming few years,” Kongola told IPS.

The good news, however, is that seasons with El Niño kind of rainfall are predictable. “By anticipating these events, we can seek to amplify them through minimal but strategic engineering interventions that might allow us to actually increase replenishment of the well-field,” said Taylor.

According to Professor Nuhu Hatibu, the East African head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, irrigation has been the ‘magic’ bullet for improving agricultural productivity all over the world, and “that is exactly what Africa needs to achieve a green revolution.”

 

Photo: Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from the University College London (UCL) (far left) is the principal investigator in a project to study groundwater resources to understand more how to use the resource to alleviate poverty. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Water monitoring upgraded in Upper Great Ruaha, Tanzania

re-posted from GroFutures

The GroFutures Team, working with the Tanzanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation, expanded monitoring infrastructure in the Upper Great Ruaha Observatory (UGRO) to include interactions between groundwater and surface water.

An outstanding question regarding the sustainability of groundwater withdrawals for irrigation and drinking-water supplies is whether groundwater in the agriculturally intensive lowlands is replenished by river flow, sustains river flow, or both depending upon the season.

Continue reading Water monitoring upgraded in Upper Great Ruaha, Tanzania

Groundwater monitoring established in the Upper Great Ruaha Basin, Tanzania

Re-posted from GroFutures.org

The GroFutures team at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA, Tanzania), led by Japhet Kashaigili (SUA) with support from PhD students, Hezron Philipo (SUA) and David Seddon (UCL), established in July (2017) a groundwater-level monitoring network in the Upper Great Ruaha Basin Observatory in southern highlands of Tanzania.  This area is part of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) where increased use of groundwater and surface water is anticipated to support agricultural production.  Constructed monitoring wells at depths ranging from 18 to 32 m below ground were drilled using a PAT-DRILL 421 rig. The team also instrumented monitoring wells recently constructed by project partners at the Rufiji Basin Water Board (RBWB) in the Tanzanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

The new monitoring network comprises an upstream location at Chimala at the base of an escarpment and a downstream location at Mbarali within the alluvial plain. A monitoring well at Chimala Secondary School was installed into coarse unconsolidated sands and gravels to a depth of 26 m. This monitoring well is linked to both an additional monitoring well at Usangu Secondary School and a river gauge. Both monitoring wells are equipped with automated dataloggers providing hourly groundwater-level measurements. A third borehole was constructed at Chimala Primary School though no groundwater was encountered up to a depth of 30 m. At Mbarali, two monitoring wells were constructed on the St. Ann’s Secondary School and now form a transect of 4 monitoring wells as the team also instrumented two monitoring wells recently constructed by the RBWB at Rujewa at Mbarali Secondary School and Jangurutu Primary School.

The new infrastructure is expected to reveal for the first time the dynamics between groundwater and surface water in the Upper Great Ruaha sub-catchment of the Rufiji Basin and answer key questions around the nature of groundwater recharge and whether seasonal river flow recharges  groundwater or groundwater sustains river flow. Further work will also seek to ensure that this observatory is equipped with both tipping-bucket rain gauges to record sub-daily (hourly) rainfall intensities and soil-moisture probe arrays to better understand how intense rainfalls are transmitted through alluvial soils.

Fossil groundwater vulnerable to modern contamination

Study shows that over half of global groundwater is over 12,000 years old

Most of the groundwater in the world that is accessible by deep wells is fossil groundwater, stored beneath the earth’s surface for more than 12,000 years, and that ancient water is not immune to modern contamination, as has been widely assumed.

This study, led by Dr. Scott Jasechko (University of Calgary) and co-authored by an international team of researchers including Professor Richard Taylor (UCL Geography & UPGro GroFutures), is published online today (April 25) in Nature Geoscience.

Groundwater is the water stored beneath the earth’s surface in soil pore spaces and within the fractures of rock formations. It provides drinking and irrigation water for billions of people around the world.

Jasechko, Taylor and his co-researchers dated groundwater from over 6,000 wells around the globe. By measuring the amount of radioactive carbon in the water, the team was able to determine the age of the groundwater. They discovered that the majority of the earth’s groundwater is likely fossil groundwater, derived from rain and snow that fell more than 12,000 years ago. The team determined that this fossil groundwater accounts for between 42 to 85 per cent of total fresh, unfrozen water in the upper kilometre of the earth’s crust.

Until now, the scientific community has generally believed that fossil groundwater is safe from modern contamination but this study has proved otherwise.

“Deep wells mostly pump fossil groundwater but many still contain some recent rain and snow melt, which is vulnerable to modern contamination,” says Jasechko.

Rain and snow that fell after the 1950s contains tritium, a radioactive isotope that was spread around the globe as a result of thermonuclear bomb testing. Disturbingly, traces of tritium were found in deep well waters, which indicates that contemporary rain and snow melt can mix with deep fossil groundwater and, in turn, potentially contaminate this ancient water.

According to Taylor, this discovery has important ramifications that should influence the way humans use groundwater in the future,

“Our results reveal not only current use of fossil groundwater but also the potential risks to water quality associated with the use of deep wells. Indeed, we need to better understand how the construction and pumping of deep wells themselves may connect fossil groundwater to the present-day water cycle.”

Scale of global water crisis could be unknown due to inadequate metrics, study suggests #worldwaterday

Re-posted from UCL

A new study by UCL researchers exposes substantial limitations in the ability of current metrics to define ‘water scarcity’.

 

21 March 2017

A new study by UCL suggests the scale of the global water crisis could not be properly known at due to inadequacies with the current metrics used to measure it.

With today being World Water Day, the research, led by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and UCL Geography, exposes substantial limitations in the ability of current metrics to define ‘water scarcity’.

The report finds that the misrepresentation of freshwater resources and demand is particularly severe in low-income countries of the tropics where the consequences of water scarcity are projected to be most severe and where most of the global population now live. Simply put, the authors argue that we do not know the dimensions of the global water crisis.

Ensuring the availability of adequate quantities of freshwater to sustain the health and well-being of people and the ecosystems in which they live, remains one of the world’s most pressing challenges. This question is reflected in UN Sustainable Development Goal 6.4 which seeks to reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

The authors call for a renewed debate about how best to measure ‘water scarcity’ and argue that it be redefined in terms of the freshwater storage required to address imbalances in freshwater supply and demand. Such an approach, they contend, would enable for the explicit consideration of groundwater, the world’s largest accessible store of freshwater which accounts for nearly 50% of all freshwater withdrawals globally.

Further the authors suggest that such a metric could be used pragmatically to explore a wide range of options for addressing freshwater storage requirements beyond dams alone that include use of renewable groundwater, soil water, and trading in virtual water.

Prof Richard Taylor, co-author of the paper says:

“How we understand water scarcity is strongly influenced by how we measure it. Grossly misrepresentative measures of water scarcity can identify scarcity where there is sufficient and sufficiency where there is scarcity. An improved measure of water scarcity would help to ensure that limited resources are better targeted to address where and when water-scarce conditions are identified.”

Click here to download the paper

Authors:

Simon Damkjaer, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
Prof Richard Taylor, UCL Department of Geography

UPGro GroFutures: http://grofutures.org/

Photo: Irrigated maize crop supplied by groundwater in Zambia – Richard Taylor

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.

Continue reading Tropical groundwater resources resilient to climate change