2004 October Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Insert 2.5—Assessing the impacts on groundwater: The Northern Region Water and Sanitation project in Ghana
Water resources developments can be risky if they are planned without a thorough understanding of the long-term availability of the basic water resource. Wells and boreholes are unsuccessful when insufficient attention is paid in the planning stages to the quality and probable quantity of the groundwater in local aquifers. The acquisition and analysis of data on surface water and groundwater resources is . . . a necessary precondition for successful water projects—CIDA.
This case illustrates the importance of completing a thorough assessment of groundwater extraction projects, which can have serious negative environmental effects. The environmental assessment of the Northern Region Water and Sanitation project identified groundwater draw-down as a likely adverse environmental effect. The assessment concluded that there would be no significant negative impact on the groundwater table because there had been no observable change in groundwater levels in 50 observation wells. Yet these wells were not located in the same region as the Northern Region Water and Sanitation project.
There are limited data on and knowledge of the potential environmental impacts of the increasing exploitation of groundwater resources in northern Ghana. Water tables have also dropped drastically in some parts of northern Ghana. However, it is not clear whether this information was considered in the environmental assessment, given that it was completed in one day.
The potential cumulative environmental impacts on groundwater were also not considered. For instance, the impact on an aquifer from 700 water extraction points in one project can be significant. The impact can be more significant if there are more water points drilled by other projects in the region or if intense irrigation is drawing on the same aquifer.
The Project Implementation Plan noted that no groundwater monitoring programs are in place in the project districts and that this is a major constraint on assessing groundwater potential. While the project required that the quality and quantity of groundwater be measured, it did not identify mitigation measures if problems were found. The environmental assessment simply noted that "if difficulties arise the project will react accordingly."