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Enhancing Sustainable Groundwater Use in South Africa


Overall Aim

The overall aim of the proposed ESGUSA follow-up 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.



The overall objective of the project is to enhance sustainable management of groundwater, a key water source for multiple uses in semi-arid South Africa, which is under increasing pressure from population growth and climate change. The target area for the research is the Hout/Sand River catchments located within the Limpopo Basin. Due to increasing water demand and multi-year droughts, areas like Hout/Sand River catchments are experiencing overexploitation and degradation of the groundwater resource, in a context of limited capacity to manage the resource. In face of these challenges, the research will strengthen the knowledge base around groundwater resources and impacts of climate change, while also producing concrete groundwater-based innovative solutions for enhancing water security, livelihoods and resilience.

The specific objectives and expected results of the project are to:

Support sustainable groundwater management in South Africa through effective research partnership with Denmark.

  • Results 1st phase: Young scientists from both South Africa and Denmark have been educated and strong research ties have been established between the two countries. Valuable sector and stakeholder networks have been strengthened through meetings and workshops and a growing understanding has been cultivated on the need for managing the groundwater resources based on research and participatory approaches.

  • Outlook 2nd phase: By advancing long-term research cooperation between Denmark and South Africa on groundwater-related issues, more sustainable groundwater-based solutions and management outcomes can be achieved.

Improve the understanding of the hydrogeological conditions in the semi-arid parts of South Africa with particular focus on episodic and focused recharge under current and future climate.

  • Results 1st phase: For the first time in South Africa, infrastructure has been built for collecting real time data on groundwater recharge processes and with the specific purpose of measuring focused recharge, a critical component of groundwater replenishment occurring under extreme events when ephemeral rivers start flowing.

  • Outlook 2nd phase: A more comprehensive analysis of focused recharge will be carried out as longer time series become available. Application of an integrated hydrological model will advance the analysis of recharge processes and in particular the relative importance of focused and diffuse recharge as affected by climate change at catchment scale.

Downscale an existing integrated hydrological model for the Hout/Sand River catchments to community and farm scale using innovative machine learning techniques.

  • Results 1st phase: A dynamic hydrological model based on the MIKE SHE code has been developed for the Hout/Sand catchments providing an integrated understanding of water dynamics at catchment scale. The model provides a scientific platform for improved assessment of the water resources at catchment scale and for developing improved water management scenarios. Operational methods for retrieving satellite products of rainfall, evapotranspiration and soil moisture have been developed.

  • Outlook 2nd phase: Downscaling of the catchment simulations using machine learning techniques will be carried out to achieve information relevant for groundwater management at community/farm level, thereby providing targeted water management information and guidance for farmers under present and future climate.

Establish a Grundfos Lifelink water kiosk facility in collaboration with the local communities and assess the performance, impact and management of the facility in order to secure a reliable and safe water supply for the target community.

  • Results 1st phase: Research results have documented that water resources in Hout/Sand River catchments are under heavy pressure, and that people experience water insecurity, requiring new solutions for securing adequate and reliable water supply.

  • Outlook 2nd phase: The Lifelink water kiosk solution will improve sustainable, affordable and equitable access to safe water, enhance sustainable water management by local communities, and improve health and daily living conditions.

Assess an existing MAR facility for sustainable water supply for Polokwane and rural farmers.

  • Results 1st phase: A scoping study showed that new solutions are required to augment groundwater availability in urban areas of the Hout/Sand River catchments to meet the increasing demands. A promising method to increase groundwater recharge is through using reclaimed water without compromising water quality.

  • Outlook 2nd phase: Informed and research-based approaches to MAR will augment safe and reliable water supply for urban and rural communities in dry areas under increasing population and climate pressure. An existing MAR scheme has shown to be an excellent facility for enhancing water supply and providing a feasible study site.



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ESGUSA chilled

ESGUSA chilled

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Pholokwane WWTW discharge

Pholokwane WWTW discharge

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Stakeholder discussion

Stakeholder discussion

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