Surface water groundwater interaction
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Surface water / Groundwater Interaction. Conjunctive use and conjunctive management. . Key Issues for GW-SW Interaction. Physical / Chemical Interaction – water balance / quality implications System Dimensions: time / flow rate factors River basin / aquifer boundaries Allocation issues

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Surface water / Groundwater Interaction

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Surface water groundwater interaction

Surface water / Groundwater Interaction

Conjunctive use and conjunctive management.

Key issues for gw sw interaction

Key Issues for GW-SW Interaction

  • Physical / Chemical Interaction – water balance / quality implications

  • System Dimensions: time / flow rate factors

  • River basin / aquifer boundaries

  • Allocation issues

  • Institutional interactions

  • Legislation concordance

  • Practical management / monitoring issues

Physical chemical interaction

Physical / Chemical Interaction

  • All abstraction will have an impact on the total water balance and water quality.

  • Groundwater dependant ecosystems as discharge zones are often the first to register the impact of abstraction.

  • These impacts may be immediate and relatively simple in small local systems such as dambos or removed, long term and complex as in large regional systems such as rift valleys.

  • The processes and their duration / time scale need to be understood for effective management.

Surface water




Regional features

eg Rift Valley

Small local


eg Dambos



Groundwater impacts on surface water acid mine drainage

Groundwater impacts on surface water – acid mine drainage

Decant site – Witwatersrand Gold

20 – 120 ML / day

pH 2.1

Fe ~ 5% SO4 ~11%

Surface groundwater basins differ

Surface / Groundwater basins differ

  • River basin and the aquifer dimensions may not coincide, especially in sedimentary environments.

  • Significant volumes of inter-basin water transfer may occur.

  • Potential for river basin and aquifer management authority conflicts

  • Complex interactions take place and conjunctive management is needed.

Natural rainwater harvesting with groundwater storage

Natural Rainwater Harvesting with Groundwater Storage

River systems harvest

rainfall from the basin and channel this water down the river, where it is stored in alluvial aquifers as alluvial groundwater

Surface to groundwater recharge

Surface to Groundwater Recharge

No streams on Kalahari Sand

Dense drainage pattern on gneiss

Same rainfall – different runoff

Improved infiltration =>

High recharge rates =>

Perennial water supply =>

Greater prosperity

Water allocation issues

Water Allocation Issues

  • Effective water allocation requires not only a good working knowledge of the basin / aquifer water balances, but also good communication between the different managers.

  • Institutional and regulatory issues often impede effective scientific management of the water resource.

  • Surface water allocations tend to take precedence especially if the groundwater condition is not well known or understood.

Effective water allocation

Effective Water Allocation

Adequate knowledge of surface

and groundwater resources

needed for allocation decisions.

Communication and shared

knowledge are essential

for effective water allocation

Abstraction impacts

Abstraction Impacts

  • The impact of surface water abstractions on groundwater flows => reduced recharge => declining heads => reduced discharges to GDE’s; reduced aquifer yields; increased pumping heads; etc...

  • Impacts of groundwater abstractions on surface water flows => reduced baseflows and drying out of streams; delay in start of river flow during rainy season; amelioration of floods

Institutional interactions

Institutional Interactions

  • Many countries manage their water by means of River Basin Organizations (RBO’s). The role of groundwater in such organizations is often minimal.

  • Aquifer Management Organizations often operate as independent organizations without reference to surface flows.

  • Groundwater and Surface water are often managed by different departments (eg Geological Survey vs Dept Water)

  • The actual interactions between surface and groundwater are complex, and adequate data and advanced modelling are needed to understand these interactions.



  • Groundwater may not be mentioned at all in the water act.

  • Often regulation of groundwater is implied in the legislation rather than specified.

  • Separate acts, such as pollution control acts, are often used to protect groundwater; protection is frequently not included in the water act.

  • Interpretation and application of the legislation may require significant human resources and technical capacity to achieve compliance.

Management interventions sw gw

Management Interventions sw-gw

  • Where possible, the entire water cycle should be managed in an integrated way, with all inflows and outflows to / from the water balance accounted for.

  • Conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater allows managers to make use of the large volumes of surface water flows during the rainy season and the large stored groundwater volumes in the dry season.

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