The City of Johannesburg’s water company has been urging more use of boreholes amid the country’s worst rainfall in more than 100 years.


Householders in affluent areas and other organisations like golf clubs have been tapping into groundwater to make up for the shortages. Although several provinces have declared emergencies, the national government has been loathe to do so, hoping that rain will relieve the pressure.
But some industry experts say widespread boreholing without monitoring could bring its own problems.
Joburg Water has teamed up with the Borehole Water Association to encourage the city’s residents to switch to borehole water to mitigate the crippling drought. Both have inked a Memorandum of Understanding to promote the use of alternative water to mainstream supplies.
Member of the Mayoral Committee for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Councillor Matshidiso Mfikoe, called on residents to play their part: “We are a water scarce country and everyone has a responsibility to save this scarce resource.
“Boreholes are a component of the water mix the City is exploring. This includes harvesting ground and rainwater and recycling it. We’re looking at innovative ways to save water.”
Ten well-off areas have been targeted for the cost of sinking a single bore is between R30 000 and R50 000. There are already 13,500 in the city with more in the pipeline.
Organisations such as parks, golf clubs and schools are among those that are being encouraged to participate.
South Africa is one of the biggest users of water. The world average is 175l per person per day, in South Africa it’s 235l per person per day, while in Johannesburg it’s 300l per person.
The water company says education about preserving water is a priority. The challenge for Gauteng, for instance, is that it is a populous province, with five million people living in Johannesburg. Ageing infrastructure and unpaid water debt are major challenges.
The goal is to close the gap between demand and consumption.
Already 572km of the 11000km of water pipes have been replaced with effluence, acid mine drainage and recycling also on the agenda.
In South Africa groundwater accounts for 13% of the country’s total water use but geographically two-thirds of the country relies on the resource.
Around 300 towns and villages rely solely on groundwater. These are places that have no other source of water. Their water comes out of the ground through a combination of springs and boreholes.
Research by the Water Research Commission says the country has an estimated 10m cubic metres of renewable groundwater. In a normal drought, this drops to 7m, but the current drought has dropped reserves to such a low level that nobody knows how much is left.
The government has traditionally relied on people’s goodwill to hand over that information. There is no national control over the drilling of individual boreholes, unless a municipality has a specific bylaw to that effect. Legislation only kicks in when it comes to the industrial use of borehole water. In effect, anyone can drill a hole in the ground and suck up as much water as they want.


Around a tenth of purified water in Joburg is consumed for drinking – the rest is used to water gardens, wash cars and clothes, as well as bathing.
Joburg Water’s managing director Lungile Dhlamini says this practice has to end.
His advice is to drill a borehole where possible to avoid water restrictions and to cut costs.
Water savings of between 60% and 80% can be realised for an average, middle-income household if the borehole water is used for gardens and other irrigation purposes.
“A borehole is an investment which enhances your property asset,” he said, adding that using boreholes can result in large savings on water bills.
Dhlamini announced that JW had been co-operating with the BWA for the past 18 months in terms of forging a partnership to encourage residents to drill boreholes.
The association conducted a hydro-geological survey of total township water demand – or kilolitres used per day – within the City of Joburg to get an idea of groundwater use.
Dhlamini said South Africa has been classified as a water-stressed country, and Gauteng and Joburg are not exceptions.
“But now we have proper and current hydro-geological data to assist households who can afford to drill boreholes and to make informed decisions in encouraging responsible use of groundwater,” he said.
Joburg Water will assist households with the registration of their boreholes as required in terms of the National Water Act.
Although it is difficult to ascertain costs, the average price of drilling is about R1 000 a metre. Holes can be between 36m to 120m depending on the location and geological conditions.
The costs can be recovered within three years for those consuming large amounts of water.
Boreholes, said Dhlamini, cannot be drilled everywhere – it all depends on the geology of the land, and that, too, determines the costs.
In the past, the domestic water borehole drilling history in South Africa has had a chequered history, he said.
This has mainly been attributed to a combination of the following factors:
* Lack of information about all matters to do with drilling and construction of the borehole and the fact that in the past there were no codes of practice or standards for the drilling industry.
This situation led to poor workmanship in the industry.
* The second problem was choosing cost-effective and professional contractors.
The one downside of using borehole water is that it has to be regularly tested for contamination and the pumps have to be regularly maintained.
Borehole water is generally not contaminated, said Dhlamini, but can become so through chemical spills, contaminated run-offs from impervious surfaces and failing sewage-treatment systems.


  • There are currently only 13 500 boreholes in use around the city of Joburg.
  • In most areas of Gauteng, you do not require permission to install a borehole.
  • Once installed, all boreholes must be registered in compliance with the National Water Act of 1998.
  • Borehole water should not be used for drinking until tested.
  • Borehole water can be used for swimming pools.
  • Most wells can supply more water than a customer needs. Professional advice on this should be sought before drilling.
  • Most boreholes will continue supplying water for more than 40 or 50 years.




Southern Africa is currently in the grip of an intense drought that has expanded and strengthened since the earliest stages of the 2015-2016 agricultural season, driven by one of the strongest El Niño events of the last 50 years, says the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural organisation.
Across large swathes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Madagascar, the current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years. Agricultural areas in northern Namibia and southern Angola have also experienced high levels of water deficit.
Much of the southern African sub-region has consequently experienced significant delays in planting and very poor conditions for early crop development and pasture re-growth. In many areas, planting has not been possible due to 30 to 50 day delays in the onset of seasonal rains resulting in widespread crop failure.
Although there has been some relief since mid-January in certain areas, the window of opportunity for the successful planting of crops under rain-fed conditions is nearly closed. Even assuming normal rainfall for the remainder of the season, cropwater balance models indicate poor performance of maize over a widespread area.
The combination of a poor 2014-2015 season, an extremely dry early season (October to December) and forecasts for continuing hot and drier-than-average conditions through mid-2016, suggest a scenario of extensive, regional-scale crop failure.



South Africa’s largest grain producer has reduced its forecast for maize imports but is still urging the government to declare the drought a national disaster.

Grain SA says five out of nine provinces have been tagged disaster zones but a national disaster is necessary in order to release relief funds.

Chief executive Jannie de Villiers said: “We need the leadership to declare it a disaster so that the process can be triggered.”

Should a national disaster be declared, emergency relief funds would be released from the National Treasury to eligible farmers. However, any funding would probably come too late to secure the future of farmers on the brink of going bankrupt or selling their holdings, De Villiers said.

Farmers of cattle, sheep and goats have been urged by the government to cut the sizes of their herds as the drought has scorched grazing land and the 2016 maize harvest is expected to fall 25% from last year to 7.44m.