Experts turn to groundwater amid looming crisis

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pretoria - South Africa will have to make use of more groundwater and explore other technologies such as sea water desalination and recycling to avert the looming crisis of water shortages in the country, say experts. 

In the latest study released on Tuesday, which showed the country's surface water was being "over used", the Water Research Commission (WRC) further warned that if the exceeding demands for water were not addressed urgently, South Africa could be plunged into a crisis of crippling water shortage by 2026.

This comes after an earlier report by the South African Water and Energy Forum said the country's water problems could lead to critical shortages as early as 2020. 

South Africa marked National Water Week from Monday, with the Department of Water Affairs embarking on several campaigns alerting communities about the dangers of water wastage. 

The report, titled 'The Water Resources of South Africa Study 2005' is the latest WRC has used to assess the water situation in the country and is to be used by government for future planning. It focused on the need for the country to investigate other water resources and analysing different trends that were emerging within the water sector. 

A projected R270 million is to be used to research possible ventures of groundwater supplies while other more expensive options were likely to look at sea water desalination and recycling. The study is the first countrywide water resources survey to have included surface water, groundwater as well as quality components. 

"What we have established is that we have been relying more on surface water, which is available in dams ... and there hasn't been enough done to explore ways of utilising groundwater," said the commission's research manager Shafick Adams. 

He said there was a huge demand for water in South Africa, which exceeded the current supply which mainly comes from surface water, with little attention paid to groundwater sourcing.

The total volume of available renewable ground water in South Africa is 10 343 million cubic meters per year or 7 500 million under drought conditions.

The commission says already there are examples of recent developments which could be potentially beneficial for future research on ground water. One example was a revised set of groundwater assessments and advances in technology, which could be used to bring about major improvements in future assessments. 

The Department of Water Affairs highlighted lack of capacity, deteriorating infrastructure, costs and illegal water abstractions to be contributing to the problem of water shortages in the country.

It plans to speed up the rehabilitation of the existing infrastructure while measures will be ongoing to explore the method of reusing of treated water, desalination and ensuring the efficient use of water, particularly in industrialised areas.