It has become impossible to hide from the fact that South Africa is facing dire drought conditions with dam water levels and water restrictions being the hot topics of discussion. It is, therefore, not surprising that South Africans have started looking to alternative water sources and an increasing number of households are tapping into our groundwater sources and utilising boreholes.

From the outset it is important to note that although it is a municipal requirement to register boreholes, one does not in fact register the borehole per se but rather the consumption of groundwater flowing from the borehole. Practically, this means that one does not need permission to drill a borehole but once it has been drilled and water has been detected, it is the groundwater that needs to be registered depending on the use and consumption of the water. However, certain local authorities may make notification or approval a requirement and a property owner will then have to comply.

Whether to register your borehole water for consumption or not is dependent on its intended use and limits. Thus, some instances would require that registration takes place while others may not, and in certain instances where water consumption from the borehole is high, a licence may be required. For further guidance in this regard one can look to Schedule 1 of the National Water Act No. 36 of 1998.

The City of Cape Town Water By-Laws of 2010 prescribes that no owner of premises who wishes to sink or dig boreholes, wells or well-points on such premises may do so unless municipal authorities are given 14 days' written notice of the owner of the premises' intention to do so. The municipality will require the location and purpose for which the groundwater will be used to be disclosed. One may further be required to state the aquifer into which the borehole is drilled, the depth drilled and the driller's log comments.

The owner of such premises has to ensure that every terminal water fitting and every appliance which supplies or uses the water is clearly marked with a weatherproof notice indicating that the water is unsuitable for domestic purposes. Such notice is acquired upon registration of the borehole, in the form of an official sign with a registration number which then needs to erected on the premises. One may not use any other sign to indicate the existence of the borehole.

Although municipalities continue to encourage the installation of boreholes and as a means of reducing the pressure on the municipal system, it has to be stressed that boreholes are not entirely exempt from water restrictions. The logic behind this is that since we are facing a drought, water from all reservoirs need to be saved so as to give the entire water system a chance to replenish itself. Boreholes can also dry up! Hydro-geologists have cautioned that groundwater has an important ecological function and for that reason its use should be meticulously monitored to ensure that the water source is not exploited.  Current level 3B water restrictions in Cape Town apply the same restrictions to the use of borehole water than to municipal drinking water.

Also note that water supplied by a borehole may not be connected to a water installation which is also connected to the municipal water supply.

Originally published February 10th, 2017

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.