Alleviating water shortage using groundwater

Like most Southern African countries, Zimbabwe has a semi-arid climate punctuated by very little rainfall activity outside the main rainy season of November to March. As a result, there is a perennial shortage of surface water; a scenario that has added credence to the need for the adoption of a comprehensive groundwater management mechanism in line with the much talked about integrated water resources management framework.

It is estimated that 70% of the Zimbabwean population resides in rural areas where boreholes and wells are the only source of freshwater and that alone is enough testament of the enormous contribution of groundwater to socio-economic development.

The failure to meet increasing water demand in urban areas due to expanding urban population and increased industrial activity has made the situation even more critical and it now requires appropriate assessment, planning, development and management of groundwater resources to protect them mostly from over-abstraction which often leads to depleted groundwater levels.

However, despite the vast use of groundwater in both rural and urban areas, there is a worrying tendency to underestimate the extent of its contribution to economic and environmental sustainability and this has made it extremely difficult to enforce compliance with the legal parameters within which development and management of groundwater should be carried out.

As more people in urban areas are increasingly relying on boreholes for their water needs, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) has been forced to intensify efforts to monitor groundwater use with a view to ensure strict adherence to groundwater permit regulations as encapsulated in the Statutory Instrument 206 of 2001.

Just as surface water usage and surface water storage for secondary purposes requires one to have a permit; it is also mandatory that, except for primary purposes, one must get in touch with relevant authorities and acquire a permit before tampering with groundwater.

It is vital to highlight that groundwater is a very finite resource which can easily run out if there is no balance between replenishing of groundwater stock and abstraction. Due to increasing water shortage and the growing reliance of urban communities on borehole water, minimum groundwater development and utilisation standards have often been disregarded and sadly, this has seen a prompt decline in the water table with boreholes in some suburbs drying.

The quality of water from some of these boreholes is also questionable since no proper assessment was carried prior to drilling. The cardinal rules that boreholes should be drilled away from potential sources of pollution and that borehole water should be tested at prescribed intervals has totally been ignored.

Consumers are therefore reminded that while it is within their rights to pursue borehole drilling as a way of alleviating water shortages, they must follow the legal framework provided in the Statutory Instrument 206 of 2001 where a standard format for groundwater development covering borehole siting, borehole drilling and construction, pumping test and equipping is outlined.

Among other things, the above statute provides that boreholes have to be spaced not less than 200m unless authorised by responsible authorities. It is also stipulated that boreholes to be used for secondary/commercial purposes have to be sited by qualified personnel capable of producing geophysical and hydrological reports.

Interestingly, there is a lot more to groundwater management than ensuring minimum requirements for borehole siting, drilling and construction as there is also a compelling need for meticulous groundwater monitoring which involves recording of abstraction rates, and routine checking of groundwater quality.

It is mandatory for consumers to seek authority for borehole drilling in order to ensure transparency on water allocation and use and also to minimise uncontrolled groundwater abstraction.

Since the number of people who relies on groundwater for their day-to-day water needs has significantly increased particularly in urban areas, the broad mandate to ensure sustainable development and management of groundwater has never been more important.

Therefore, there is need not just for a paradigm shift in the handling of groundwater issues but also an honest commitment from all stakeholders, including consumers themselves, to uphold groundwater development and management requirements as required by law.

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