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Groundwater: A Limited Resource - TNK Green

Groundwater: A Limited Resource

Groundwater: A Limited Resource

Groundwater is a crucial part of the earth’s water cycle, which sustains healthy ecosystems around the world. At its most basic, groundwater refers to water that has collected deep underground in porous rock and soil. These deposits can be accessed from the surface through wells and boreholes, or they can seep out naturally in the form of springs.

These large-scale reservoirs are called the water table and are essential in replenishing rivers and streams, and for maintaining healthy ecosystems, even in the most arid conditions. Millions of people worldwide depend on groundwater for survival and to grow food, but recently more and more wells and boreholes have run dry. Why?

In this month’s blog, we explore the nature of groundwater, examine its role in the water cycle, and look at some problems and solutions to the crisis of water scarcity.


The Hydrologic Cycle

Earth’s hydrologic cycle plays a significant role in replenishing groundwater. The hydrologic cycle refers to the way water moves across the planet through the processes of evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and runoff.

When it rains, some water will make its way to streams as runoff, but 10-20% will percolate into the ground and get trapped in cracks and fissures in the subsoil, collecting in large bodies of saturated soil and stone known as an aquifer.

Groundwater is constantly in motion, but compared to surface water, it moves at a much slower pace, depending on the transmissivity and storage capacity of these aquifers. Natural flow takes place through springs and riverbeds when the groundwater pressure is higher than the atmospheric pressure in the vicinity of the ground surface.

Internal circulation is not easily determined, but near the water table, the average cycle time of water may be less than a year, while in deep aquifers, it may be as long as thousands of years.



Groundwater serves as the primary source of drinking water for millions of people worldwide. It also plays a vital role in the development of arid and semiarid zones, sometimes supporting vast agricultural and industrial enterprises that could not exist otherwise.

In South Africa, where surface water is scarce or polluted, groundwater becomes even more critical. South Africa heavily relies on groundwater for agriculture, industry, and municipal water supply, particularly in rural areas where infrastructure for surface water delivery may be lacking. Additionally, groundwater plays a crucial role in sustaining ecosystems and supporting wetlands, springs, and stream baseflows.

Key aquifer systems in South Africa include the Karoo Basin, Cape Flats Aquifer, and the dolomite aquifers of Gauteng. Understanding the distribution and characteristics of these aquifers is essential for sustainable groundwater management.

Vast amounts of groundwater are distributed throughout the world, and a large number of reservoirs are still underdeveloped or uninvestigated. However, continuous uncontrolled withdrawal will deplete even the largest groundwater basins, so development based on the existence of aquifers can only be temporary at best.


Threats and Solutions

Despite its importance, groundwater faces numerous threats, including overexploitation, contamination, and land-use changes. Overpumping of groundwater can lead to depletion, causing land subsidence, saltwater intrusion, and drying up of wells.

Contamination from industrial activities like fracking, agricultural runoff, and improper waste disposal poses significant risks to groundwater quality. Climate change exacerbates these challenges, altering precipitation patterns and affecting recharge rates.

To address these threats and ensure the sustainable use of groundwater, various solutions are imperative. Implementing effective groundwater management strategies, such as aquifer recharge and abstraction controls, can help balance extraction rates with natural replenishment.

Promoting water conservation practices, such as efficient irrigation techniques and wastewater reuse, reduces the demand for groundwater resources. Enhanced monitoring and regulation of pollution sources, coupled with remediation efforts, safeguard groundwater quality. Furthermore, fostering public awareness and stakeholder engagement promotes responsible stewardship of groundwater resources.



In conclusion, groundwater is a finite and invaluable resource that requires careful management and protection. As a vital component of the hydrologic cycle, groundwater sustains ecosystems, supports livelihoods, and ensures water security for communities worldwide, particularly in regions like South Africa.

Recognizing the importance of groundwater, addressing threats, and implementing sustainable management practices are essential steps towards safeguarding this precious resource for current and future generations. By working together to protect and conserve groundwater, we can ensure its availability and resilience in the face of growing challenges posed by climate change and increasing demand. Let us prioritize the preservation of groundwater as we strive for a more sustainable future.

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