Groundwater extraction for industrial use and consumption is a viable water supply, and should be given greater usage consideration. The need to monitor this resource for toxins and pollutants, and to understand its hydrology is however essential, writes Laura Cornish.

South Africa’s surface water resource is reducing, slowly but steadily, meaning the need to secure alternative water sources is essential.

Groundwater has always been considered the ‘Cinderella’ of water sources and thus never truly considered a true viable option, says Dr Shafick Adams, chairman of South Africa’s Groundwater Association and research manager for the Water Research Commission.

“Despite its poor reputation, it is a viable source, and can assist with the country’s water supply shortage. The cost of accessing groundwater is in fact 10 times cheaper to deliver than the cost of a desalination plant,” Adams continues.

The key to accessing this resource properly is not the lack of technology to pump it to surface, but the necessity to implement the correct tools to monitor quality, toxicity and hydrology.

“There is also almost no cooperative bridge linking the consulting industry with project-implementing engineers on typical groundwater projects. This circumstance, coupled with the lack of tool monitoring training and awareness means that groundwater is often generally being monitored incorrectly, or not at all,” explains Vic Cruger, SM Enviro MD. If groundwater is to become a sustainable resource, then continuous monitoring is essential.

SM Enviro sells process and environmental monitoring instrumentation devices – largely to consulting companies in the field of groundwater across Africa. Its equipment monitors almost every possible waste influence in the water, including pH levels, oxidation reduction potential, conductivity, residual chlorine, turbidity, salinity, total dissolved solids, temperature, as well as levels for resource monitoring and aquifer characterisation.

While the use of groundwater is and will become an increasingly significant municipal initiative for supplying to local communities, it is an extremely important issue to the mining sector as well.

“It is essential the mines are aware of and monitor their tailings facilities for possible seepage, de-watering on surface and underground, as well as wastewater discharge, that could potentially pollute natural surface water streams and rivers, but can also pollute underground water sources as well, which in turn affects surface water streams,” Cruger continues.

The mining sector however has become exceedingly environment conscious and technologically advanced in terms of its understanding of the need to monitor its environment-impacting footprint. As a result of this, Cruger believes the country’s mining houses could lead other industries and municipalities forward in terms of learning how to monitor water sources effectively and efficiently.

SM Enviro has most recently helped develop a special marine-equivalent monitoring probe capable of operating at underground depths of 3 000 m – making it ideal for monitoring underground acid mine drainage (AMD) water.

The company has instruments installed in numerous different shafts within the central and eastern Witwatersrand gold basins – monitoring AMD.

Teaching the new generation

Driven by its desire to enable and empower the new generation of consultants and engineers emerging into the water and associated industries with the necessity for groundwater monitoring, the SA Groundwater Association, together with SM Enviro embarked on a seminar road trip to provide groundwater monitoring training and discussion forums to university students.

The one day seminars were well attended and included the universities of Pretoria, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. A similar seminar was held in Windhoek for consultants mining and government institutions, including the Ministry of Water, Windhoek municipality, Namwater, etc.

Consultants, and various industry experts also attended, which thanks to the seminar, were provided with the platform to share their industry knowledge.

“We were also successfully able to educate students and consultants on the technological advancements of typical monitoring equipment, which today is highly successful in remote monitoring,” Cruger adds.

Guest speaker, Dr Ted Way, a senior hydrologist with over 40 years of experience applauded the event, praising all parties for initiating such a useful information transfer opportunity.

Christopher Williams, United States-based international sales manager for In-Situ (SM Enviro has the local distribution rights to sell the In-Situ water monitoring products) also attended. “Africa is becoming an increasingly important continent for our business, and we see massive potential for growth and increased knowledge awareness in this area,” Williams stated.

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