Groundwater an option to current water crisis

Friday, March 4, 2016

Pretoria - South Africans must consider using groundwater on a grand scale to augment the fast diminishing surface water, says Director General of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Margaret-Ann Diedricks.

Speaking at a conference of the Water Resources Group (WRG) on Thursday, Diedricks said there was an overreliance on surface water at the expense of groundwater that could play a pivotal role to alleviate South Africa’s water woes.

The five-day conference is held under theme ‘2030 WRG Knowledge Exchange’ to develop partnerships that can assist governments to accelerate actions and increase water sustainability and efficiency. 

It also raises awareness about water scarcity challenges and to find possible solutions among high level decision-makers, as well as to support in-country activities.

Diedricks told delegates from East Africa, India, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Peru and Mexico that South Africa, together with its neighbours, is experiencing the difficulties of climate change through the drought that has destroyed crops and livestock in its wake since 2014.

“There has to be definite change of mind-set with regards to the general overreliance on surface water, while there is an abundance of groundwater that can be used for basic needs,” said Diedricks.

She said the use of recycled water for industries and irrigation would go a long way towards helping to supplement surface water that had been dried up by the drought.

“There were no ready-made solutions to the current water crisis but countries had to adapt,” she said.

Diedricks’s statement comes three years after delegates, who attended a groundwater conference in Durban, heard that more than 420 towns in the country were largely dependent on groundwater and 80% of rural villages were dependent entirely on this rare water resource.

From a groundwater governance point of view, municipalities lack the human resource capacity to effectively implement groundwater governance provisions.

Renewable groundwater

Groundwater specialist at the WRC, Dr Shafick Adams, estimated that the total volume of available renewable groundwater is between 10 - 343 million m3/annum (7 500 million m3/annum under drought conditions).

Current use is estimated between 2 000 – 4 000 million m3/annum.

Adams maintained that groundwater, if managed correctly, had the potential to significantly add to the country’s water supply mix. He also argued that it was wrong for groundwater to be treated as a step-sister to surface water as the two complement each other.

“Groundwater is fairly cheap and fast to develop. Most of the groundwater is of potable quality and the areas where qualities are below standards have been mapped.

“In addition, groundwater can reduce the strain of high water demand from surface water resource, either as a sole supply source or by way of augmenting the already out stripped surface resources,” said Adams.

Zama Siqalala of the Strategic Water Partners Network said the agriculture industry is the biggest consumer of water in South Africa yet it contributed a mere 3% to the country’s GDP.

“It is about time that the industry resorted to the water use efficiency principles in order to minimise its water use,” said Siqalala. –