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Groundwater Databases in South Africa

Data for Groundwater Management

Groundwater systems are dynamic due to differing properties of the aquifer, short and long-term variations in abstraction, climate, and land use. Existing below surface, groundwater is an invisible resource. This makes it challenging when trying to quantify the impacts of anthropogenic, hydrogeological and environmental stresses on groundwater systems. Monitoring data and the analysis thereof are at the core of understanding and managing our invaluable water resources – as the age old saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t monitor”. As South Africa’s water custodian, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is responsible for managing our national water supply. They are mandated to ensure that all our water resources, including groundwater, are sustainably developed, utilised, and monitored so that our present water needs are met without compromising the needs of future generations. The National Water Act (NWA; No. 36 of 1998) stipulates the requirement for national monitoring and information systems to inform sustainable groundwater management and decision making. The DWS has established four national groundwater databases which are discussed here.

What are the different national groundwater databases?

Four national groundwater databases have been created to manage the data collected from monitoring programmes of South Africa’s groundwater resources. This data, hosted by the DWS, is available to anyone and can be accessed by registering via the online portals or by making a direct email request to DWS. Information on the types of data hosted in each national groundwater databases and how to access them are outlined below:

National Groundwater Archive (NGA)

The NGA is a database system that allows for the capturing, viewing, querying, and extracting of national groundwater information. The longstanding database includes comprehensive groundwater information ranging across the country dating back to the 1960’s. These are useful for hydrogeological assessments such as desktop assessments, hydrocencus, and groundwater modelling which Umvoto regularly undertakes. The data in NGA includes:

Site name, location, and typeA unique site identifier: locality information such as coordinates, farm name, catchment, water resource management area, and site description e.g., borehole, spring, dam, etc.
Drilling details: lithological logs, water strike depth, blow yield, and borehole constructionInformation gathered: when a borehole was drilled including type of rock intercepted, depth water was encountered, an indication of borehole yield, diameter of the borehole, type and size of casing installed, etc.
Test pumping and abstraction dataRecommended abstraction rate calculated from aquifer testing.
Groundwater levelsMeasured level of the groundwater table below the surface.
Field based water qualityOn site measurements of electrical conductivity (EC), pH and temperature.

Data from the NGA can be accessed via the online portal here. Instructions on how to download basic groundwater data are outlined on the online portal.


Improvements in groundwater monitoring technology, such as  level loggers, which automatically record groundwater levels at daily, hourly, or even on the second intervals, meant that datasets were rapidly increasing in size. Due to NGA’s data storage limitations it was no longer able to host the influx of large data. To solve this problem, in 2004 the DWS commissioned a new data management system called Hydstra. It was decided that sites no longer being monitored would remain in NGA as an archive. The rest of the datasets would be copied to Hydstra, however, during this process the sites were assigned new names. This makes interpretation and analysis challenging when assessing data from both Hydstra and NGA. To get around this, coordinates should be compared to identify duplicates.

Data from Hydstra can be requested from the DWS via email: GeoRequests@dws.gov.za.

Water use Authorisation and Registration Management System (WARMS)

WARMS stores information regarding registered and licenced water uses across South Africa. There are various water uses which include irrigation, industry, power generation, watering of livestock, and recreational purposes. The registration and licencing of these uses is governed by the NWA. Both surface and groundwater use are included in WARMS since groundwater and surface water are interlinked. The data included in the WARMS database are:

Registration detailsThese are the details assigned to the user applying for a water use licence including name and type of water use, number of registrations, status of registration (active or not).
Date registeredDate the licence was registered.
Resource type and locationDescription and location of where water will be taken from e.g., borehole, spring, dam, etc.
Water use sectorWhat the water will be used for e.g., irrigation, industry, domestic use.
Water volume licencedThe amount of water the user is licenced or registered to abstract from the resource on an annual basis.

WARMS data can be requested from DWS via email: WARMSdatarequests@dws.gov.za

See Umvoto’s easy to follow how-to-guide to find out when you need to apply for a water use licence or registration, found here.

Water Management System (WMS)

WMS stores groundwater quality data from sites around South Africa that are monitored twice a year (before and after the rainfall season) by DWS personnel. The database includes a variety physio-chemical properties such as pH, EC and temperature, macro-chemical determinants such as major ions and total hardness, as well as a suite of micro-biological parameters, metals and trace elements. To ensure data points align across the different databases, the site names are consistent with the NGA and WARMS databases. The WMS houses over 37 580 groundwater quality samples including data from the National Groundwater Quality Monitoring Programme (NGWQMP).

Data from the WMS can be accessed via the online portal here or can be requested from DWS via email: GeoRequests@dws.gov.za

Where else does this data go?

The data from the above-mentioned national groundwater databases are collated into a central freely accessible dashboard called the National Integrated Water Information System (NIWIS). NIWIS allows the users to visualise and navigate the groundwater data spatially on a map of the country. It also displays information pertaining to climate, disaster management, water services and sanitation, water resource monitoring and management, and even water tariffs. The dashboard is updated regularly and is an effective tool for large scale analysis and reporting in South Africa.


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