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While groundwater is an abundant resource, it does not mean we should waste it. The maximum quantity of groundwater that can be developed economically in South Africa is estimated at about 6 billion/m³ a year. Some groundwater resources take a long time to replenish. If too much groundwater is extracted too fast, it may become depleted. In coastal areas, fresh water, being less dense, floats on salt water. Over extraction of fresh water may allow salt water to replace it. Therefore, it is important to decide how much water can be extracted from an aquifer before it is developed.
Can we run out of groundwater?
Groundwater supplies are recharged naturally by rain and snow melt. That means we are only able to abstract as much water as that being recharged, otherwise the groundwater supply will run into a “deficit”. It is therefore possible that we can run out of groundwater, at least until the supply has been recharged again. This recharge process can take months, years or even hundreds of years. It is important to know how much water is available for abstraction from a specific aquifer BEFORE we start to utilise it.