Saturday, September 29, 2007

Prince Albert Groundwater Status

- Dr Ricky Murray, Groundwater Africa -

Exactly a year ago, I was appointed by the Municipality to get groundwater management going. Mr Edwin September from the Municipality assisted in raising funds from the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry’s (DWAF) Masibambane Programme, and the Municipality contributed by buying and installing the necessary monitoring equipment. This followed on from the project that I was already doing for DWAF on artificial recharge where Prince Albert was selected as a pilot study site.

What followed has been remarkable. Prince Albert has moved from having unreliable groundwater resources to having a good picture of the available resource and how to manage it.

Virtually every borehole was being pumped at too high a rate, and this led to dramatic declines in borehole water levels. Data loggers have now been installed for measuring water levels, flow meters are regularly read to establish the volumes pumped, and other key information such as rainfall and water quality is gathered.

Some of the key developments are:Borehole monitoring equipment has been installed in Prince Albert, Klaarstroom and Leeu-Gamka.

  • Each borehole has been analysed and optimum pumping rates have been set.
  • A pumping schedule has been developed to cater for both summer and winter requirements. This stipulates when and for how long each borehole should be pumped.
  • A groundwater monitoring and management system has been developed. It describes everything that needs to be done. Unfortunately the training given to Brian Hitchcock was lost with his resignation from the Municipality. A new person will need to be trained.
  • An assessment of the artificial recharge potential has been done. Testing was not carried out because the aquifer was full at the time of the planned tests, but the potential is very good.
  • An environmental study was done by Prof Sue Milton.
  • 9 environmental monitoring boreholes were drilled and tested (paid for by DWAF), and a number of other boreholes have been equipped with monitoring equipment.
  • An estimate of the losses from the furrow was made, but this needs to be scientifically done before we can be certain what the water savings would be if the pipeline was installed in the furrow. This estimate was made to assess the amount of water available for artificial recharge.
  • DWAF is now planning on installing two rainfall stations south of town.
  • At the time of writing this, we are busy drafting a comprehensive report that describes all the above points. This should be complete by the end of September.

The approach thus far has been to get the necessary data so that the groundwater resource can be understood. The monitoring equipment is in place, and we now have a good idea of “how things work”. But this followed on from one of the wettest years in recorded history, so the newly set pumping rates will need to be closely monitored over the next few years and modified as we get a better understanding of how the aquifers respond to both wet and dry periods.

One of the environmental monitoring boreholes is located above (south) of all the municipal production boreholes, at the base of the Swartberg Pass. Water level monitoring over the past year shows that groundwater abstraction has had no effect at all on this borehole even though the nearest production borehole was pumped virtually non-stop throughout the year. It does not seem like you have to worry about “dewatering the Swartberg” (See PA Friend, Jan 2007).

This does not mean that you can abstract groundwater in an uncontrolled manner. Prince Albert has good groundwater reserves and if managed properly, will provide the town (together with water from the irrigation furrow) with a reliable supply throughout the year.

In summer time, you will need to use it wisely and not waste it; and in times of drought you will have to be extra careful and conserve it. But at this stage, you don’t need a dam or any other major infrastructure - you need to optimise existing water resources and minimise wastage.

The key challenge now regarding water resource management (as opposed to supply management) is to further develop our understanding of the water resources (and we now have all monitoring systems in place), and to develop local skills in understanding and managing the water resources. It would also be nice to “up” the public’s awareness on water issues.

I’ll be presenting the report to the public later in the year. Please attend. Thanks to the Municipality for supporting this project and for taking groundwater seriously; and to Johann Rissik for installing and reading loggers, and generally doing most of the on-the-ground work.

An interesting fact to end off on: During the last summer (Nov 06 to Apr 07), groundwater supplied 86% of the town’s Municipal water; the remaining 14% came from the irrigation furrow.

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