Home > GoFlow: Governing groundwater flows for growing cities facing drought risks
GoFlow: Governing groundwater flows for growing cities facing drought risks
Project period: April 2021 - March 2023
The GoFlow project aims to integrate the natural and social science aspects of, and to strengthen the collaborative capacity for, the sustainable management of groundwater in and around growing urban areas in South Africa under changing climate conditions.
Growing urban settlements face growing water demand, and where urban settlements experience drought, they are likely to face particularly severe water provision short falls, as has recently been experienced in various parts of the Eastern and Western Cape, notably Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town. Patterns of growing urban water demand and increasing drought risk intersect in a context of infrastructure development and maintenance constraints and delays in many of South Africa’s metropolitan municipalities. Groundwater is turned to in times of crisis, often as a quick solution to supplement supplies and make up surface water deficits, for both public utilities and private water users, leading to rising competition over usage rights between agricultural and urban users. Turning to groundwater during crises, as a reactive measure, leads to poorly coordinated regulation of increased users and usage, and fragmented management of the resource. For many aquifers in and around city regions, observational data is scant or inaccessible and projections of future conditions are either not available or at a scale not suited to groundwater resource planning. In South Africa, the governance and regulation of groundwater is generally weak, so more work is needed on how to effectively strengthen it, based on solid evidence and sustained engagement between stakeholders. This project contributes to developing an integrated and shared knowledge base to foster collaborative and sustainable groundwater use and recharge at the city regional scale, to support urban growth while managing drought risk within a changing climate.
Focussing on what can be learnt from the City of Cape Town (CPT) and Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB), as growing South African cities facing water scarcity risks, the project addresses the questions:
Using an urban water metabolism (UWM) framework, how do various scenarios of climate and land use impact on groundwater flows into and out of CPT & NMB? How do we construct scenarios informed by and legitimate to stakeholders?
How do we construct numerical models to have legitimacy with stakeholders, such that the models engage with existing narratives / mentalities of stakeholders and create opportunities to shift those narratives / mentalities? How do we make trade-offs between the complexity and legibility of the models?
Who is involved in decisions shaping groundwater flows through CPT & NMB? How are they involved? What laws & policies shape their involvement? How do characteristics of the actors (i.e. mentalities, technologies, structures and resources) shape how/what decisions are made?
Who needs to be involved in new or different ways? How does the combination of the UWM analysis, the governance analysis and the multi-stakeholder Learning Labs capacitate governance shifts?
What we will be doing
The project team will conduct an urban water metabolism analysis for the city and surrounds of Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town and analyse institutional arrangements for groundwater governance in the two cases. The urban water metabolism analyses will be used to explore urban recharge processes under a range of likely hydrological shifts and extremes (magnitude and frequency of drought) and urban planning / land cover scenarios (focusing on imperviousness) for 2040-2060. The governance network analysis will be used to facilitate multi-stakeholder Learning Lab engagements exploring the applicability of the urban water metabolism analysis and scenarios to build a shared understanding of groundwater as part of the larger urban water cycle, and to strengthen the coordination needed to make, implement and modify the rules of the groundwater resource regime to adapt to changing hydrological and urban conditions.
In undertaking this work, capacity will be strengthened to integrate the natural and social science aspects of sustainably managing groundwater in and around growing urban areas in light of changing climate conditions affecting patterns of water demand, availability and quality. This will be done by fostering collaboration between mid-level researchers engaged in urban metabolism, multi-level governance and climate science research, with a shared focus on urban water management, as well as co-supervising two Masters students. The outputs will support the shift to a more sustainable and integrated approach to managing groundwater as part of the water supply mix for growing urban areas that share water sources across municipal and provincial boundaries and face increasing drought risk under climate change.
The project will provide an improved understanding of how an urban water metabolism and governance framework can be used to facilitate an integrated analysis and multi-stakeholder engagement process needed to compromise between the benefits and costs of urban groundwater use (especially for managing hydrological extreme events). It will hopefully result in a stronger set of relations and shared understanding between researchers, technical experts, political decision makers and water users on the implications of various climate and land use scenarios on groundwater use and recharge, in the context of the water system as a whole.
Dr Anna Taylor, ACDI, expertise in urban climate adaptation, multi-level governance and transdisciplinarity
Dr Ffion Atkins, EGS Dept, expertise in urban ecology, water resource management and biogeochemistry
Dr Christopher Jack, CSAG, expertise in climate modeling, climate projections and downscaling, statistical analysis, stakeholder engagement
Dr Lorena Pasquini, CSAG, expertise in governance, urban risk and transformations to sustainability
The project is funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC). The UCT team is collaborating with colleagues in the Department of Geosciences at the Nelson Mandela University.