Feature

Borehole water: Experts proffer solutions to contamination

…fault Lagos commissioner’s claim

The proliferation of private wells and boreholes for domestic water consumption in Lagos raises important questions. It also calls to question the danger inherent in such practices as pointed out recently by the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, who last week raised the alarm that water from such sources is not fit for human consumption. Isioma Madike captures the reactions of experts in that area.

Reactions have been pouring in since last week after the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, urged Lagos residents to exercise caution with regards to the consumption of water from boreholes. Abayomi had warned that water from boreholes and wells in Lagos is not suitable for animals talk less of humans. According to the commissioner, tests conducted in parts of the state confirmed its contamination by very dangerous pathogens.

The presence of very dangerous pathogens in water aquifers, he said, has been confirmed in water from boreholes around Lagos, noting that some residents have even come down with infections after consuming borehole water. But, the National President of Nigeria Borehole Drillers Association (AWDROP), Engineer Michael Ale, who reacted almost immediately has criticised the comment credited to the commissioner, saying instead that failure of the government to properly manage the water sector and the borehole industry was responsible for unsafe drinking water in the state.

In his submission, Ale, insisted that failure to provide productive and responsive leadership in virtually all sectors on the part of the government has been responsible for the unsafe drinking water from the boreholes in the state. According to him “the alarm being raised over unsafe drinking water in Lagos is an indication of a failed government’s system. Nobody should be blamed but the government.

Though the Water Expert acknowledged that the commissioner might be saying the obvious, he however blamed the government’s long term abandonment of professionalism in the sector as the major cause. Ale, who is equally an expert in Water, Sanitation and hygiene (WASH), said: “Yes, l agree with the commissioner’s submission, long term abandonment of professionalism is playing out in the borehole drilling industry. But professionally handled boreholes are safe for consumption. “The fact is all water is at its raw state and unsafe until it is declared safe by the practitioner and laboratory scientists.

So, no need to fear, we should just abide by professional practitioners, if we don’t want to have a long threatening disease.” He did not stop there but advised Lagos State Government “to have proper water security and Governance structure. Then allocate enough budgets for water resources management, train more professionals in the sector and educate people on water quality, among other precautionary measures.”

While urging government at all levels to wake up to their responsibility,especially in the area of managing development oriented sectors such as the water sector, he allayed the fears of the Lagos State government that water from the boreholes in the state is unsafe for drinking, clarifying that professionally handled boreholes have safe drinking water.

He said his association, which comprises professional borehole drillers, can assist the Lagos State’s Ministry of Health in training practitioners, who will provide professional services in the area in focus. “What our association can do is to partner with the Ministry of Health in organising programmes through which we will train practitioners in the drilling industry in professional practice and also set a code of practice for Lagos drilling operations,” Ale added. He said as professionals, his association has the wherewithal to solve the unsafe water issues once and for all.

”We have the template to make things work in Lagos State. We should be invited to make our presentation,” he said. Also, the managing director of Cooha Borehole Companies, Ojota, Lagos, John Chinedu Owo, in his reaction said the commissioner ought to be specific on his criteria of assessment of borehole water in the state. “If soak away is his major concern, for instance, we can’t categorise the whole Lagos. We have different formations in Lagos.

Those lower depths are mainly on the Island like Lekki and parts of Apapa. Those zones, the silt level in some of those places is high and in the middle. Those who try to tap from such sources will end up doing a borehole of 10 or 15 meters. Those are the people who you can say their hole is closer to septic tanks. “If the septic tank is some metres far from where the borehole is dug, it cannot be categorised that the water from the septic tank can enter the borehole. If the drilling of such a shallow borehole is properly done, surface water won’t enter it and the septic tank is far from the borehole is dug then there will be no need for pollution. 20 or 30 metres away from the soak away will not get there.

“Most of the septic tanks in those areas are cast in between and cemented. The residue cannot even flow and enter the ground properly. What I will say is that if the shallow borehole is distanced from where the septic tank is and those who drill it avoid cementation, there is no way septic tank water will come and pollute the borehole.

“Secondly, in other areas, we encourage deep wells of 700 ft. That is advisable for the other areas. For the mainland of Lagos, the depth is also far. They go to 150,200,300 ft, so there is no way septic tank water will interfere with such depths of borehole. “Whichever way, whether it is shallow or deep, even the World Health Organisation advises that any water being dug should have a treatment plan that has enough filtration system. It will take care of any unforeseen contamination that may occur.

“My advice is that wells should be distanced from septic tanks. Again, a treatment plan should be installed to be able to filter the water properly and if possible add water treatment so that microorganisms in water will be completely killed and it will be good for drinking and other home chores.” For an engineer at the Water technology limited, Agege, who craved anonymity, borehole water is raw water, which needs some form of treatment before use just like raw food so that it doesn’t hurt. He said: “You treat by going to analyse it. People don’t want to do things accordingly.

When they dig boreholes or wells they think they can drink it like that. You need to do analysis so that you will know what you are treating. When we know the place, we will position it and then test the water to know if it is good for consumption.” Abayomi had pointed to the presence of an aquifer, which he said is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures, or unconsolidated materials. It could be gravel, sand, or silt. According to him, water aquifers in Lagos boreholes and wells have been poisoned as a result of the unhealthy activities of residents.

He had said: “When you burn diesel with a generator or when you throw your dead cell phone into the garbage and it goes into the refuse dump, whenever it rains, all those poisons and chemicals from the surface of the earth go into the water aquifers, which is an ecosystem itself and is supposed to be clean. He had equally recalled that about five years ago, female students in Queens College fell sick because they were drinking water from a borehole. Some of the girls, he said, were placed on very expensive antibiotics before they got better, while the rest of them died. Abayomi said, “I am standing here as the commissioner for health and I am telling you that our health system is weak. We have got sanitation, waste problems and also we have got a very large number of pathogens.”

He, therefore, urged the private sector, and all stakeholders to work with the state government to ensure Lagos has a biosecurity framework that could help ensure a prompt response to biological shocks. “We must be able to mitigate and find the pathogen early and stop it because in Lagos residents live like sardines. So, any form of contagion whether it’s water borne, airborne, or contact borne, will spread like wildfire. It is the responsibility of this government to bring an outbreak under control and restore calm.

“It requires a strategic approach and that is why we are here today to ask for the support of private sectors and others and to recognise that we are a very vulnerable environment and our resilience is very low. “The best policies that will protect the health system are to recognise and value the role of nature in reducing systemic risks and mitigate the risk of future zoonotic disease outbreaks by addressing their root causes,” he said. However, experts have said that water security is one of the most pressing risks facing the world. In urban areas, according to them, a rapidly growing population coupled with rising incomes, falling costs, and often an absent or unreliable public water supply, mean that increasing numbers of households are choosing to install private boreholes to meet their domestic water needs.

This trend, they say, is particularly prevalent in global mega-cities such as Lagos. This multidisciplinary study, they added, begins to address the question: Does the proliferation of private boreholes strengthen or weaken the resilience of Lagos and its residents to future environmental shocks? The experts’ position is mainly that the rapid development of groundwater systems as part of urban water supplies is raising critical questions regarding the sustainable management of this essential resource.

Yet, in many major cities like Lagos, the absence of an effective policy regime means that the practice of groundwater exploitation is driven by the actions of domestic households and drilling contractors. However, a rapidly growing population coupled with rising incomes, falling costs, and often an absent or unreliable public water supply, mean that increasing numbers of households are choosing to install private boreholes to meet their domestic water needs. This trend is particularly prevalent in emerging global mega-cities such as Lagos, Nigeria. This multidisciplinary study begins to address the question: Does the proliferation of private boreholes strengthen or weaken the resilience of Lagos and its residents to future environmental shocks? However, a Water Resources Consultant, Matthew Offie, had urged Nigerians to adhere to code of practice when drilling boreholes to avoid possible shrinking of land and building collapse.

Offie told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that it was worrisome that drilling of boreholes had become the only option which citizens rely on for getting potable water. Describing it as `land subsidence’, the consultant said this could occur as a result of over extraction of ground water resources.

He had said: “The reason boreholes are drilled indiscriminately is because the demand for water is high, if people don’t have water, they will drill boreholes, and everyone around me has a borehole to meet the demand for water. Currently, regulations are not working, so, we are asking that tiers of government intensify efforts to see that services are delivered.’’ According to him, drilling boreholes close to septic tanks is also worrisome, as it is a leading cause of water pollution in the environment. He noted that boreholes should not be less than 60 meters from septic tanks, as what was being practiced in some places was having boreholes about 15 meters to septic tanks.

He said this practice was not acceptable as there was a possibility for water interactions from both points and possible contamination. Offie noted that indiscriminate drilling of boreholes was experienced around the Lekki axis in Lagos State, saying with the provision of potable pipe borne water from the Lagos Water Corporation, most boreholes were no longer used. Before now, the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LSWRC) had cautioned operators in the borehole drilling industry against operating without the requisite licence or permit from the State government, just as it sealed a construction site on Cameron Road, in Ikoyi for violating the Environmental Protection and Management Law 2017.

The Executive Secretary, LSWRC, Mrs. Funke Adepoju, gave the warning on the heels of the commencement of a monitoring and enforcement exercise by the Commission to some construction sites in Ikoyi, where boreholes are being drilled without a licence, permit and total disregard for safety measures. She said as a proactive government, the present administration has embarked on full implementation of the licence and permit regime for borehole drillers to ensure safe water consumption by residents, protect groundwater and engender environmental sustainability. While maintaining that erring practitioners will, henceforth, be sanctioned for violating the Environmental Protection and Management Law, she said the enforcement exercise was part of the control measures by the state government to prevent unregulated drilling of boreholes. According to Adepoju, “the Lagos State Harmonised Environmental Protection and Management Law (2017) empowers the LSWRC to regulate the production, distribution, abstraction, consumption, supply and use of water, as well as the quality of service, and it would amount to breaching the law for any borehole driller and those who drill for private use, to do so without a licence or permit from the Commission”.

She added that “the LSWRC has the mandate to ensure that operators in the industry comply with the stipulated standards. If you have to drill, we have the responsibility to ensure that the water available is safe for consumption. In view of the high correlation between hygienic water and health, the government will not allow quacks to take over the industry. As such, all drillers need a licence to operate in line with standard regulatory provision”.

The Executive Secretary emphasised that the geological formation of Lagos is sedimentary and caution is, therefore, necessary in drilling for water across the metropolis, noting that due to the importance of groundwater, the government is poised to protect it from pollution, contamination of water bodies, unregulated drilling, saline filtration and environmental degradation, among others. As the Global community on March 22, celebrates the World Water Day with the theme; ‘Groundwater: Making The Invisible Visible’, the world had, again, come to agreement that one of the essential elements of earth, water, is the prime necessity of life; that all living animals and plants cease to exist without it.

 

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