Enhancing Sustainable Groundwater Use in South Africa – ESGUSA-2

Project summary

Much of Southern Africa is semi-arid, subject to low (400-650 mm/year) and erratic rainfall, implying severe challenges in providing growing populations with sustainable water supplies for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses. The situation is particularly critical in the Limpopo Province of north-eastern South Africa, which has the second-highest poverty levels in South Africa. The Hout/Sand River catchments, which constitute the target area for the proposed research, exemplify the complex water challenges in areas traditionally developed for intensive irrigated agriculture while also housing smaller dispersed communities lagging behind in socioeconomic development and service delivery, especially reliable and safe public water supply. Climate change, population growth, health risks, increasing demand for food and accompanying land use changes are primary factors for intensifying water challenges in the area, confounded by poorly informed water management and limited participation of local citizens and stakeholders. Groundwater resources have traditionally been the key reliable source to meet most needs in these areas, however, groundwater is naturally limited in terms of storage and replenishment. Evidence of groundwater depletion, especially in intensively irrigated areas, has been observed. Hence, it is critically important that research is dedicated to the improved integrated management of groundwater resources. River discharge and groundwater recharge are governed by intense but infrequent rainfall events. Since these are expected to intensify on the back of extended droughts under climate change, the water resources will come under increasing pressure, and challenges will only grow.

The overall aim of the project is to enhance the sustainable use and knowledge-based management of groundwater in South Africa under increasing pressure from climate change, population growth, and zoonotic and other health risks. This will be achieved through two key components: (1) continuation and expansion of previous field and modelling investigations supporting a better understanding of the availability and dynamics of groundwater resources (quantity and quality) and impacts of climate change and (2) support to water security of communities through innovative climate-smart and resilient groundwater-based water supply systems. This approach is underpinned by collaborative learning approaches and expanded partnerships between Denmark and South Africa.



First year report
The project has been subject to complications and delays. As of now, it has not been possible to get a MoU in place between the project and the local authorities. This has been a hindrance for installing a Grundfos AQtap in a local community. Such a facility provides an integrated platform for revenue collection and online remote management of water points and hereby enhance access to clean and safe groundwater. Our idea was to investigate the social benefits of installation of such a facility in female-headed households and particularly how time spent for fetching water can be reduced, health conditions improved and school attendance of children enhanced. However, due to the pending MoU, we may discontinue the activity. A review paper on the performance AQtaps other places in Africa has been drafted.
Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) is a method by which the groundwater resources can be augmented by infiltration of e.g. reclaimed wastewater. This method is practiced in the city of Polokwane and the project has planned a series of field activities at this facility. A review paper on MAR has been drafted.
The development of an integrated hydrological model for the Hout/Sand catchment is under development. A higher spatial resolution rainfall product has been developed by combining data from rainfall gauging stations and satellite data. In addition, work has been carried out on improving the conceptual model for the semi-arid catchment with an ephemeral river system.

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