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Characteristics of high-intensity groundwater abstractions from weathered crystalline bedrock aquifers in East Africa

Maurice, L., Taylor, R. G., Tindimugaya, C., MacDonald, A. M., Johnson, P., Kaponda, A., Owor, M., Sanga, H., Bonsor, H. C., Darling, W. G., Gooddy, D.
Hydrogeology journal 2019 v.27 no.2 pp. 459-474
aquifers, bedrock, drought, groundwater extraction, saprolite, sediments, tropics, viability, water supply, water table, Tanzania, Uganda
Weathered crystalline bedrock aquifers sustain water supplies across the tropics, including East Africa. Although well yields are commonly <1 L s⁻¹, more intensive abstraction occurs and provides vital urban and agricultural water supplies. The hydrogeological conditions that sustain such high abstraction from crystalline bedrock aquifers remain, however, poorly characterised. Five sites of intensive groundwater abstraction (multiple boreholes yielding several L s⁻¹ or more) were investigated in Uganda and Tanzania. Analysis of aquifer properties data indicates that the sites have transmissivities of 10–1,000 m² day⁻¹, which is higher than generally observed in deeply weathered crystalline bedrock aquifers. At four of the five sites, weathered bedrock (saprolite) is overlain by younger superficial sediments, which provide additional storage and raise the water table within the underlying aquifer. Residence-time indicators suggest that: (1) abstracted water derives, in part, from modern recharge (within the last 10–60 years); and (2) intensive abstraction is sustained by recharge occurring over several decades. This range of encountered residence times indicates a degree of resilience to contemporary climate variability (e.g. short-term droughts), although the long-term sustainability of intensive abstractions remains uncertain. Evidence from one site in Tanzania (Makutapora) highlights the value of multi-decadal groundwater-level records in establishing the long-term viability of intensive groundwater abstraction, and demonstrates the influence of intra-decadal climate variability in determining the magnitude and frequency of recharge.