UpGro Hidden Crisis Physical Sciences Longitudinal Studies – Uganda Lift Off!

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Clockwise from top left: Measuring SWL in the elusive abandoned borehole and a cow; Installation of one of the rainfall collectors in the community chairpersons backyard; Securing the logger access hatch onto the pump pedastool; Modifying the handpump headworks so that a logger can be installed securely

The physical sciences longitudinal studies have kicked off in Uganda this week. The aim of these longitudinal studies is to capture the time-based hydroclimatic and hydrogeological processes of the groundwater system at selected hand pumped boreholes (HPBs). These temporal datasets provide valuable information to understanding HPB functionality that could not be addressed from the two main survey phases in the project (field survey 1 and 2).

The temporal datasets collected by the longitudinal studies will be used to estimate groundwater recharge to the groundwater system and also examine how the aquifers respond to climatic events or potential contamination issues.

What data is being collected?

  1. Bulk monthly rainfall samples, will be used with the groundwater chemistry data collected in Survey 1, to estimate groundwater recharge by applying the chloride mass balance (CMB) method.
  2. Water level data from HPBs, will be collected using manual measurements, as well as pressure transducers.  These data show the short (seasonal episodic events) and long term trends which can be used as indicators of the capacity of the water resource and its sustainability.

How? The mainstay of the fieldwork will be conducted by the in-country physical science researcher, Joseph Okullo from Makerere University, in conjunction with a number of ‘community researchers’, who will conduct frequent and regular monitoring and observation of rainfall collectors and water levels. Samples collected will be analysed at Flinders University in Australia.  The sites being used were selected from some of the sites sampled in the First Main Survey phase of the project.

Easy? The field program hasn’t been without its challenges. Mobilisation, logistics and consultation on the ground always take longer than you think. Most HPBs in Uganda are also India Mark II, which we have had to modify with the assistance of some additional ‘hydrogeologist’ tools (aka an angle grinder) so that water level measurements can be made and water level loggers deployed.   Re-finding HPB’s visited in Field Survey 1 is also not without some challenges – some proving quite elusive and others difficult to re-access at all times of the year in thunderstorms when tracks very muddy.

Watch this space for updates and results!

Ethiopia Phase 2 – Survey Update

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Phase 2 of the Hidden Crisis fieldwork is underway – right on schedule.  The work has started in Ejere, a Woreda about 100 km north of Addis in Ethiopia.  In this major survey of 50 poorly functioning rural waterpoints, we spend two days dismantling and testing each water point to work out what the main problem is before putting it back together again. The tests include investigating the condition of the pump and sending a camera into the borehole to check the construction.  We also carry out many different tests to determine the permeability of the rocks, the chemistry of the groundwater, and the residence time of the water pumped from the borehole.

At the same time, our social science team carries out detailed discussions with different groups within the community to understand how the water point is managed, and how they cope when the waterpoint doesn’t work.

Once the field study is completed in late July 2017 we will have a unique dataset of the different reasons for the poor functionality of some boreholes equipped with handpumps.  This will also help us to see linkages between physical and social aspects of rural water supply.  Armed with lessons learned from this study, the Ethiopian government and partners will be able to construct more resilient water points in the future.

In case you’re wondering where the community gets its water for the 2 days we are dismantling their pump, we have two water tanks with us that are filled to keep the supply going.

The work in Ethiopia is being undertaken by a team of researchers from Addis Ababa University, the British Geological Survey, Sheffield University and WaterAid. Two more surveys in Uganda and Malawi will start later in the year.

Image captions from L-R: The team puts a camera down the borehole to investigate its construction; We lay out the pump component parts and measure corrosion and materials; Before the tests we fill up some water tanks to enable people to still fetch water.