Victoria Falls, on the Zambian border with Zimbabwe. Picture: 123RF/ARTUSH
Victoria Falls, on the Zambian border with Zimbabwe. Picture: 123RF/ARTUSH

Lusaka— Faced with longer droughts and growing water demand, the Zambian government has introduced fees on groundwater use.

Under a new executive order that came into effect in March, owners of domestic boreholes are, for the first time, required to pay a one-off fee of 250 kwacha ($25) to have their well licensed.

There will be no monthly or annual fees for domestic water users, but those who consume more than 10,000 litres a day will be charged a commercial fee of 5 kwacha for each additional 30m³ they extract, according to the government-run Water Resource Management Authority (Warma).

Emmanuel Mumba, a legal counsellor at Warma, said that the utility has long been concerned about how groundwater and surface water were being managed, and prolonged droughts linked to climate change have made the situation worse. Population growth and increased water use by farming and industry also are putting pressure on the country’s dwindling water resources.

"We are going to be monitoring groundwater use now, because as long as it is not managed well we will run out of it," Mumba said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The utility says that 60% to 70% of water consumed in Zambia comes from groundwater.

Warma inspectors will install devices to measure water consumption and pollution levels in each borehole visited. Wells found to be leaking will be decommissioned, Mumba said. The agency has already set up observation boreholes to judge how much groundwater levels are decreasing and to measure water contamination in parts of Lusaka, he said.

The agency has already set up observation boreholes to judge how much groundwater levels are decreasing and to measure water contamination

The Zambian government has placed water management on its economic and sustainable development agenda in its seventh national development plan, for the period 2017 to 2021, according to its minstry of energy and water development.

The ministry’s permanent secretary, Ed Chomba, said at a press conference that the borehole charges would cover administrative costs and help regulate water use in the face of climate change. The new rules allow a domestic household to use an average of 10m³ (10,000 litres) of water a day.

Failure to register a borehole can result in a maximum fine of 30,000 kwacha ($3,000) or imprisonment for up to 12 months, according to the new rules. However, an international charity working on water issues in Zambia says more steps need to be taken to regulate consumption and reduce pollution.

Pamela Chisanga of WaterAid Zambia said contamination of water is as big a problem as lack of it in parts of Zambia. "For us, the challenge is water contamination before we talk of how much water each household can use."

Mike Zulu of Lusaka, who owns a borehole, said that when his water was tested it was found to be polluted. His household uses considerably less than 5,000 litres of water a day, and he believes that income from the well licensing programme should be used to address increasing levels of water contamination, rather than simply being spent on administration of the programme. "It would have been better if the funds raised were used to assist borehole owners to deal with polluted water."

Fewer drillers, fewer wells?

Christopher Chilongo, secretary of the Drillers Association of Zambia, said that the new regulations will help set standards for the construction of new boreholes. Only registered firms with qualified staff are now allow to drill wells.

"Clearly, the groundwater table level keeps on dropping, and we cannot keep on [drilling] holes," Chilongo said. "Twenty years from now it will be a huge problem if the issue is not addressed now." He said that according to a survey by his association last year, the temperature of groundwater is rising, while the water level is falling in most parts of the country.

The Zambian government reported in 2015 that 11% of urban residents lacked access to safe drinking water, while almost half the rural population lacked access. "As a means of [conserving] groundwater, we are encouraging communities to use communal boreholes in most residential areas. For example, six to nine households can have one borehole to use," Chilongo said.

Warma officials similarly said they hope most domestic boreholes used by single households will eventually be decommissioned in favour of shared wells. This will improve conservation of water and also raise funds as, under the new regulations, boreholes used by more than one household can be charged commercial rates, Warma officials said.

Thomson Reuters Foundation