GIS and Aquifer Vulnerability

​The water quality of South Africa is rapidly deteriorating, while the lack of scientific and engineering capacity to counter and mitigate this deterioration is of great concern. Mining activities are one of the known contributors to polluting South Africa’s water sources and has recently been brought to light with the public awareness of acid mine drainage.

The use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) for designing groundwater monitoring programs through the integration of an aquifer vulnerability model can present a useful, powerful and cost-effective decision making tool, that incorporates the main hydrogeological factors controlling aquifer vulnerability for the initial steps of assigning resources toward the management of groundwater reserves.

Groundwater is considered to form part of the earth’s hydrological cycle. It constitutes the part of water in the hydrological cycle that occurs in permeable geological structures defined as aquifers. Aquifer refers to the portion of the subsurface that is completely soaked or saturated with water.

Once groundwater is contaminated it becomes very costly to remediate and may take a long time to recover. Consequentially, proactive management of groundwater, where possible, is essential, as contamination from diffuse sources is not only seen as an environmental issue but also as an economic and health concern.

iA pressing need thus presents itself (in regions dominated by large scale anthropogenic activities, such as mining and agriculture) for research into identifying vulnerable aquifer locations and a method to design or potentially optimize a monitoring program. This will aid in better management and the potential mitigation of the contamination of groundwater sources before it reaches a state of non-repair.

The use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) for designing groundwater monitoring programs through the integration of an aquifer vulnerability model can present a useful, powerful and cost-effective decision making tool, that incorporates the main hydrogeological factors controlling aquifer vulnerability for the initial steps of assigning resources toward the management of groundwater reserves.

The development of the ArcGIS software has allowed for an easy to use user interface for the simulation of aquifer vulnerability models. The ease of archiving, retrieving and display of spatial data has also improved greatly. Additionally, it also provided a platform for the assignment of numerical ratings to specific spatial attribute data. This thus makes ArcGIS a very useful tool for conducting simulation models for assessing aquifer vulnerability.

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