Groundwater in the Limpopo Basin: occurrence, use and impact
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The Limpopo River Basin is underlain by an alluvial aquifer along the main river stem and fractured water-bearing units in tributary catchments. Notwithstanding that development priorities in parts of the basin in South Africa have historically preferred surface water sources for irrigation and domestic supply, water resources auditing suggests that groundwater presents the only viable alternative source of cost-effective supply to meet future requirements. However, while aquifer yields are favourable in places, averaging 16.7 l/s for main-stem alluvium, groundwater is already extensively used. Between 1995 and 2002, total groundwater use in the area rose by almost 40%, increasing from 98 to 136 million m3 per year. In all catchments, groundwater use grew by varying proportions, reaching a rather high 200% in the Mogalakwena catchment. In the particular case of commercial irrigation, over-exploitation of groundwater has been recorded in a number of places, especially in the northwest where drawdowns of more than 50 m have resulted from decades of intense agricultural water use. Although groundwater use for mining is still low at 4% of total usage in the study area, the region is currently witnessing a surge in mining operations, and a significant growth in water requirements is envisaged for mining development. Further, domestic water supply to the predominantly rural dwellers in the area is relatively low, even in terms of meeting the basic need of 25 l/day per person, underscoring the fact that groundwater will remain a critical source of community drinking water in the foreseeable future.
KeywordsGroundwater Limpopo Basin South Africa Sustainable catchments Water use
Gratefully acknowledged are two key opportunities to work in the study area, the results of which this paper draws upon heavily. The one was a commissioned assignment undertaken for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the occurrence and use of groundwater in the broader trans-boundary basin. The other, in full-time employment with the national Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), was active professional participation and leadership in the process of developing an internal strategic perspective for the management of regional water resources.
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