Articles | Volume 19, issue 2
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 1093–1106, 2015

Special issue: Drought forecasting and warning

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 1093–1106, 2015

Research article 26 Feb 2015

Research article | 26 Feb 2015

Groundwater as an emergency source for drought mitigation in the Crocodile River catchment, South Africa

F. E. F. Mussá1,2, Y. Zhou1, S. Maskey1, I. Masih1, and S. Uhlenbrook1,3 F. E. F. Mussá et al.
  • 1UNESCO-IHE, Institute for Water Education, P.O. Box 3015, 2601 DA Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Eduardo Mondlane University, Faculty of Engineering, Av. de Moçambique km 1.5, C. Postal 257, Maputo, Mozambique
  • 3Delft University of Technology, Section of Water Resources, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands

Abstract. Global climate change has received much attention worldwide in the scientific as well as in the political community, indicating that changes in precipitation, extreme droughts and floods may increasingly threaten many regions. Drought is a natural phenomenon that causes social, economical and environmental damage to society. In this study, we assess the drought intensity and severity and the groundwater potential to be used as a supplementary source of water to mitigate drought impacts in the Crocodile River catchment, a water-stressed sub-catchment of the Incomati River catchment in South Africa. The research methodology consists of three parts. First, the spatial and temporal variation of the meteorological and hydrological drought severity and intensity over the catchment were evaluated. The Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) was used to analyse the meteorological drought and the Standardized Runoff Index (SRI) was used for the hydrological drought. Second, the water deficit in the catchment during the drought period was computed using a simple water balance method. Finally, a groundwater model was constructed in order to assess the feasibility of using groundwater as an emergency source for drought impact mitigation. Results show that the low-rainfall areas are more vulnerable to severe meteorological droughts (lower and upper crocodile). Moreover, the most water stressed sub-catchments with high level of water uses but limited storage, such as the Kaap located in the middle catchment and the Lower Crocodile sub-catchments, are more vulnerable to severe hydrological droughts. The analysis of the potential groundwater use during droughts showed that a deficit of 97 Mm3 yr−1 could be supplied from groundwater without considerable adverse impacts on the river base flow and groundwater storage. Abstraction simulations for different scenarios of extremely severe droughts reveal that it is possible to use groundwater to cope with the droughts in the catchment. However, local groundwater exploitation in Nelspruit and White River sub-catchment will cause large drawdowns (> 10 m) and high base flow reduction (> 20%). This case study shows that conjunctive water management of groundwater and surface water resources is necessary to mitigate the impacts of droughts.