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Water Use License

I am a farmer and live next to a mine and they are polluting the groundwater. How can the Department give a license to the mine?

A water use license requires that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be executed. Several aspects should be addressed in the EIA:

  • ‘Who are the people who may be, or already are impacted?’

  • ‘What are these people using the groundwater for?’

  • ‘What are the possible and potential impacts, i.e. dewatering, pollution, etc.?’

  • The DWA will evaluate the information provided in the EIA and if deemed adequate a water use license, with particular conditions, will be issued. Additionally the Environmental Management Plan should address all potential and real impacts and how these will be either prevented or mitigated or resolved.

    Monitoring – Quality & Quantity

    Who is monitoring the quality of the water?

    The particular mine have to do the monitoring which includes the chemical analyses of groundwater as well as groundwater levels. The data collected through these monitoring actions must be evaluated and a report submitted to the DWA on a regular basis. Furthermore, the mining company should also out of their own address the impacts as per Environmental Management Plan.

    Borehole Registration

    I have a borehole in my garden. Must I register the borehole?

    One does not register a borehole but a water use – whether the source is surface- or groundwater. No registration is required as this type of groundwater use falls under Schedule 1-uses.

    Do I need to pay to register a borehole and what is the procedure to register a borehole?

    For Schedule 1-uses, no groundwater use registration is required; consequently no registration fees are applicable.

    How do I know if I have to register my borehole?

    If your groundwater use is more than a Schedule 1-use, it falls under either the General Authorization or Compulsory Licensing. Any groundwater use above Schedule 1-use (upper limit to volumes abstracted is not set) must be registered. Forms are available on the DWA website

    Quality Issues

    Is groundwater as clean and pure (drinkable) as surface water?

    In most parts of the RSA groundwater is a potable quality. The areas where the natural groundwater quality is poor, is well mapped. The areas where the groundwater quality has been compromised by anthropogenic activities (kraals and poorly constructed pit toilets) are also known to the DWA. It would be beneficial if you have drilled a borehole and intend to use it as a domestic source of water, that you have it tested chemically by a reputable laboratory.

    Sustainable Use

    Why is groundwater not sustainable?


    As all water sources in the RSA groundwater is available in limited quantities. All groundwater comes from rain falling on the surface of the earth, infiltrates through the soil and then into the cracks and fissure in hard rock formations, to reach the water table – this called recharge. Recharge amounts to about 2% – 4% of the annual rainfall. From the aforementioned facts, it will be appreciated that groundwater has limits. These limits are further limited by the amount of cracks and fissure in hard rock formations.


    If well managed, groundwater can be used sustainable! For more information see Question on ‘How can groundwater be managed?’

    What is a safe yield of a borehole?


    The speed with which water can flow through the cracks and fissures determine the yield of a borehole – where the cracks and fissures are very concentrated, the water can flow easily, consequently it will deliver a large volume of water at a time. However, this 4 is only the rate at which water can be abstracted from the relevant aquifer and the volume available in the aquifer is rather the limiting factor. Based on the above description it is clear that a ‘safe yield’ of a borehole is a fallacy. A sustainable abstraction rate would be the correct term to use.


    The sustainable abstraction rate will differ for each borehole and need to be determined before any pumping equipment may be ordered. Furthermore, the current practice of the groundwater community to recommend an abstraction rate per hour and an eight, or ten hour duty cycle, need to change. An abstraction rate per 24hour duty cycle must be calculated and recommended.

    Is groundwater suitable for its purpose?

    Most groundwater in the RSA is suitable for most purposes – domestic and/or stock watering and where it boreholes with high abstraction rates can be established – for irrigation purposes. The areas where groundwater is unsuitable to any of the above purposes are well known. For instance at the town of Bitterfontein – in Namaqualand – the water has to be desalinated to bring it to drinking water standards.

    What can be done to achieve the sustainable management of our South Africa’s groundwater resources?

    Measuring the water levels in your boreholes, volumes abstracted as well as rainfall figures. Drawing a graph with its parameters you will be able to see how the groundwater levels rise and fall with changing seasons and increase abstractions.

    What can be done to achieve the appropriate allocation of our South Africa’s groundwater resources?

    If everyone uses groundwater for her/his needs and not her/his greed, there will be enough water for all the citizens of South Africa.

    Should groundwater sources, i.e. aquifers, be managed?


    If you compare the management of your credit card account with an aquifer, you will find many and relevant parallels and/or similarities.

  • As your credit limit is determined but what you earn the groundwater sources of the country has its limit. In fact South Africa is a water scare country with an extremely variable rainfall (spatially and temporally). All groundwater once fell upon the surface of the earth and infiltrated down to where it is currently abstracted.

  • One cannot use your credit card unabated, nor can you abstract water from an aquifer uncontrolled.

  • As the bank helps one in the management of your credit card account (bank statements and credit limits) groundwater abstraction should be measured by flow meter and limits set by the professional geohydrologist, should be respected.

  • As you ignore your credit limits and bank warnings and eventually land in trouble, the uncontrolled use of groundwater will lead to failure.

  • As you cannot blame the bank for the trouble you are in due to above, you cannot blame groundwater for an unreliable source if you do not manage your groundwater sources properly.

  • Answer:

    From the above the answer is unequivocally ‘YES’ you MUST manage your groundwater sources.

    Groundwater & Droughts

    What happens to groundwater during drought (where does groundwater disappear to)?


    For an explanation of how groundwater occurs and where it come from refer to the Question ‘Why is groundwater not sustainable?’


  • Groundwater, unlike surface water, cannot evaporate. However, groundwater may be lost to an aquifer through pumping, spring flows and water a shallow water table through transpiration of plants which then evaporates into the air (term = evapotranspiration). Of these three the uncontrolled pumping has the largest impact.

  • It could also be that the water table has declined below the level of the borehole or dug well, i.e. water table deeper that the borehole and thus the pump inlet is dry.

  • Groundwater Contamination & Remedy, Protection

    What contaminates groundwater?

    Feedlots, kraals, and poorly constructed pit toilets can pollute groundwater with nitrates – cause of ‘blue baby syndrome’. Cattle are also very sensitive to high nitrates in water. Mining activities can also pollute groundwater with many chemical constituents but acid mine drainage (recognised by its very low pH plus high Iron and Sulphate values).

    Can contaminated/polluted groundwater be remediated?

    The remediation of groundwater is costly if not impossible consequently its protection is paramount and in the long run the cheapest option.

    What can be done to achieve the appropriate protection of our South Africa’s groundwater resources?


    The National Environmental Act requires that all natural resources, which include groundwater, of South Africa should be protected for future generations. It also mandates civil society to play the role of watch dog. This is also in line with the Integrated Water Resource Management paradigm underscoring the National Water Act.


    Thus every one of us has an obligation not only to conserve and protect the groundwater resources of the RSA on my own property but also bring misdeeds to the attention of the authorities.

    Groundwater Occurrences, Development & Recharge

    Does groundwater exists as underground rivers and streams?

    Groundwater does not occur in underground rivers and streams. Groundwater occurs in cracks and fissures in hard rock formations and between sand grains in coastal and wind-blown sands (like the Kalahari) and the sand beds of rivers. The concentration of these cracks and fissures due to tectonic and weathering processes allow great flow of 8 water underground. This concentration of cracks and fissures does in absolutely no way can be termed a river or stream. It is the geologists’ and/or geohydrologists’ primary task to locate the concentrations of cracks and fissures.

    Those of you who have visited the Cango, Sudwala and/or the Sterkfontein Dolomitic caves, will argue that if the large cavities were filled with water, it can constitute a river or an underground lake and you will be 100& correct. However, the emphasis here is on Dolomite – a carbonaceous rock that dissolves easily and forms such cavities (see map for distribution of dolomites in the RSA) – is the only exception where water flows underground not in cracks and fissures.

    Is it always advisable to do a groundwater investigation prior to borehole drilling or can one just drill anywhere?


    Many misconceptions about groundwater and boreholes exist. One that was prevalent especially in KZN, is that one does not drill a borehole deeper that 30m and no borehole is can yield more than adequate for more than a hand pump – this is far from the truth. Another is that groundwater flows in ‘veins;’ under the surface of the earth – see Question about the occurrences of groundwater.


    It is always advisable, even compulsory to contract a reputable groundwater consultant to investigate a site before drilling commences. This will ensure that the site with the highest potential will be chosen. It must be realised that geohydrologists and/or geologists may make mistakes in their interpretations, if and when geophysical methods are used, but a professional person will go back and re-analyse her/his interpretations. Diviners on the other hand never own up to their mistakes. There are five time honoured excuses which all boil down to the same thing – the blame for failure always lies with the other party.

    What is groundwater recharge?


    Water under the surface of the earth (groundwater) occurs in cracks and fissures in hard rock formations across about 890% of the RSA. The other 10% is underlain by loose sands (also called primary aquifers) where the water occurs in openings between sand grains.


    Water falling on the surface of the earth infiltrates through the soil profile and excess water will infiltrate through the crack and fissures (interstices) in the hard rocks, or openings between the sand grains, until these interstices becomes saturated. The volume of water augmenting the water in the interstices is deemed recharge. It is thus obvious that recharge is driven by rainfall. It is generally accepted that between 2% and 4% of the annual rainfall reaches the saturated parts of an aquifer.

    Is it necessary to investigate an area before a borehole is drilled?


    The geology of the country is very complex and the climate varies from area to area. Both these factors, as well as a plethora of tectonic and structural factors, play a role in the creation of interstices where the water is stored underground. In hard rock formations (covering 90% of SA) these interstices are cracks and fissures and in loose sandy formations (coastal sand, wind blow sand layers and river and sandy river beds) between the grains. Due to this complexity the task of the geohydrologist is to find the largest possible concentration of interstices through geological mapping and/or geophysical surveys.


    Yes, given the complex geological and consequent geohydrological conditions in South Africa, it is of the utmost importance to use the services of a professional geohydrologist. Besides the fact that the drilling per meter successful

    Must I always use the services of a professional geohydrologist?


    However, in the end the geohydrologist will combine her/his expertise and knowledge to serve her/his client on the best returns for her/his investment. In case of failures the professional geohydrologist will re-analyse her/his interpretations and consequently launch her-/himself on a life-long learning paradigm. The diviners however, has five time-honoured excuses which boils down to one reason – he/she has definitely made no mistake it is always the other party’s mistakes or circumstances that caused the failure. Professionals, placing the blame on other parties and/or circumstances, are as bad as the diviners.


    Yes, the returns on your investment will always be much bigger when using a professional geohydrologist. Furthermore, the professional geohydrologists will also pump test the boreholes scientifically and make aquifer management recommendation.

    Groundwater Data: Databases & Information Systems

    Does one have to get permission to sink a borehole?

    No, the National Water Act requires that water use, including groundwater, above a certain volume has to be registered. However, if you would be kind enough to submit the data regarding your borehole (see forms) it can be captured onto the DWA’s 11 National Groundwater Archive. In this way you will help to increase our knowledge of groundwater in South Africa.

    Groundwater Awareness

    Is there any educational and/or awareness material to prove the significance of groundwater and help civil society to better understanding groundwater?

    No, there is no manual and/or guidelines available in one volume but the material presented in this ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ is an attempt to educate civil society in matters regarding groundwater, it’s strategy value and the important of managing our groundwater resource base.