Assessment of groundwater potential in the eastern Kalahari region, South Africa

Jonker, Bronwyn
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The drought-stricken, eastern Kalahari region of South Africa is a water stressed region that is solely dependent on groundwater for its water supply. This resource is of primary importance in supplying safe drinking water to the inhabitants of both the towns and rural areas within this region, there being no other alternative. This situation can prove precarious, as the poorly understood complexities of the nature and behaviour of groundwater in this region has often led to over utilisation of the resource in some parts. The efficient and sustainable use of groundwater is paramount to ensure the sustainable and equitable development of the region. As such, an attempt was made to contribute to the understanding of the groundwater potential of this region by examining a number of the hydrogeological factors at play. The total resource potential for the entire study area is estimated at 10,127.29 x 106 m3/a, with the Kalahari aquifer showing the greatest potential in the study area, comprising 50.67 % of the total resource. The storage capability of the Kalahari aquifer (5478.52 x 106 m3) is also impressive, estimated to be more than twice that of the dolomite (2727.99 x 106 m3). This significant storage space of the Kalahari aquifer can allow groundwater recharge to be stored for several decades or even millennia, thereby providing a vital buffer against climate variability. Despite having such great potential, the aquifer is not actively recharged and is often associated with very saline water that is not suitable for human and livestock consumption. As such, although showing the most potential for storage, exploitation of this resource is restricted. The limestones and dolomites of the Campbell Rand and Schmidtsdrif Subgroups are considered as the most prospective water bearing formations in the study area, largely owing to weathering and karstification processes that have made them prolific aquifers and have aided significantly in their resource potential estimated at approximately 1980.65 x 106 m3/a. Although this area shows potential for higher yielding boreholes (> 5 l/s), this particular aquifer does not display hydraulic continuity, with poor water exchange between compartments, resulting in variations in yield and the amount of recharge available. Unlike the Kalahari, these aquifers cannot sustain abstraction through periods of drought, there being no natural regulation to their outflow, as such, caution has to be exercised over how much of the groundwater can in fact be abstracted from this aquifer. The weathered granitic rocks of the Archaean basement within the south-central portion of the study area show favourable resource potential (1844.71 x 106 m3/a) and are typically associated with the better quality groundwater in the study area. The groundwater has moderate salinity and is not as “hard” as the water associated with the karstic and Kalahari aquifers. Unfortunately, however, it is this aquifer that is commonly exploited, particularly for intensive irrigated agriculture. Although isotopic evidence suggests the presence of recent recharge, this aquifer receives most of its recharge from the outcropping areas of the aquifer, with the remaining 70 % of the area being overlain by thick deposits (> 15 m) of Kalahari sediment, which retain a large amount of the recharge from where it is lost by evapotranspiration. As such, if this aquifer is to be utilised sustainably and its use ensured for future generations, stricter controls need to be placed on the volume of water abstracted, particularly by irrigated agriculture. Aquifers with the least potential in the study area generally comprise the fractured basement rocks of the Kraaipan - Amalia greenstone belt, with a resource potential of 26.45 x 106 m3/a, and the fractured sedimentary rocks of the Asbestos Hills Subgroup, with a resource potential of 108.33 x 106 m3/a. While these aquifers offer poor prospects of securing large volumes of groundwater, with the groundwater being primarily confined to their fracture systems, these aquifers offer some of the best recharge areas within the study area. Their isotopic signature seems to suggest that recharge is taking place from the surrounding high ground, where surface and structural controls are responsible for the regional hydraulic continuity. Under favourable conditions, these aquifers may also recharge the adjacent karstic and granitic aquifers, where local structures enable limited lateral and vertical displacement. Overall, the calculated groundwater storage and resource potential within the study area satisfies a large proportion of the water demand in the eastern Kalahari region of South Africa. If each aquifer could be sustainably utilised, a considerable volume of water could be abstracted at an assurance of supply similar to that of surface water. The emphasis, however, is placed on “sustainable exploitation”, as groundwater in this region is also vulnerable to quality degradation and over-exploitation. This often stems from the poorly understood nature of groundwater and the hydrogeological factors at play in the region. The key challenge, therefore, relates to the effective management of the resource, with all role players involved in this complex system working together to achieve the goal of maintaining the quality of the water and ensuring that it is used sustainably, protecting it for future generations.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Science. Johannesburg, 2016.
Jonker, Bronwyn (2016) Assessment of groundwater potential in the eastern Kalahari region, South Africa, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,>