Ndlambe must comply before water project continues

Gert Nel, standing, of SRK Consulting shared his data of the bulk water supply study conducted on boreholes that would affect Eastern Border farmers if Ndlambe Municipality is granted rights to pump water from aquifers on private farms Picture: LOUISE CARTER

THE Ndlambe bulk water project, headed by Amatola Water, is still being contested by local farmers who are gripped by a fear of dry boreholes and land depreciation.

Representatives from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Amatola Water, Ndlambe Municpality and SRK Consulting met with effected farmers at the Port Alfred Civic Centre last Tuesday to disclose the data from a geological hydrocensus study conducted by SRK (an independent organisation of professional engineers and scientists) on how privately owned boreholes will be affected if the project gets the go-ahead.

The groundwater model, presented by SRK, depicts a hypothetical analysis based on rain gauges water loggers installed for a series of boreholes between February 2013 and January this year, in the Ndlambe water field and privately owned boreholes.

The groundwater model outlines the implications of the bulk water supply system while, according to Steve  Landolt from Amatola Water, no more extraction from boreholes took place until the study was completed.

The study revealed the effects on pumping over time and takes into estimates of rainfall, lateral groundwater flow and total abstraction on a full time basis. According to SRK and the groundwater model, abstraction can happen at a sustainable level if the water levels and rainfall is monitored closely.

Monitoring these boreholes would have to be the top priority to ensure that not too much pressure is placed on any borehole at any time. The model predicts that water level drawdown should reach a steady state after one year in the shallow aquifer and after six months in the deeper aquifer. In other words, within the first year there might be a steady decline in water levels, but then a stabilisation within six months after that.

The model further shows that pumping from the Ndlambe well-field will have an impact on both the shallow and deeper aquifer systems; some boreholes owners will detect that water levels in their boreholes will drop a few metres and then stabilise. If boreholes are shallow (<30m deep) and fall within the expected drawdown radius of the Ndlambe boreholes, they may dry up completely. The study predicts an impact on 36 of the 67 private boreholes located in the area, “three which will definitely dry up if the Ndlambe boreholes operate continuously,” said Gert Nel of SRK.

“There will have to be some mitigation by Ndlambe put in place for those boreholes and wetlands which will dry up,” said Nel. It will have to be on a case by case basis.

At this point, the bulk water project is halted until Ndlambe municipality complies with regulations put forward by DWS and the official licensing is granted.

Sharon Russell, representing DWS, said the department will not issue the licenses until Ndlambe has all their compliancy systems and process in order and will hold Ndlambe accountable, and penalties will be issues if compliancy is not reached.

One of the requirements is that a committee between Ndlambe and the farmers will have to be established and facilitated and used to monitor the operations at each borehole. Farmers would have to take ownership and monitor their own water supply closely and submit any relevant data to the DWS and Ndlambe when issues arise. Ndlambe will also have to put monitoring programmes in place between boreholes and wetlands in place to avoid drying up. Adjustments to pumping will have to be made when necessary before a crisis is reached and no additional drilling should be undertaken without prior approval from DWS.

Essentially, the granting of the license will depend on whether Ndlambe municipality will comply with the DWS regulations. If not, Ndlambe still has a water crisis looming and long term proposals are being developed to source water from the Sandile Dam near East London.

Questions and comments from the floor indicated that the present farmers do not feel reassured by the data put forward, and cling to hope that the conditions set forth by DWS will hold some water.

Read this week’s TotT for full story.

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