Fresh groundwater resources in coastal East Africa are crucial for the region's socio-economic development but are under threat of salinization caused by changes in recharge patterns and increasing abstraction. With the aim of establishing the drivers behind saltwater intrusion and its current spatial extent, we studied the Kenyan South Coast aquifer, a representative, strategic aquifer under increased pressure. Investigations included electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) surveys and in-situ groundwater measurements (water table and basic quality) together with the analysis of available long-term climatic and borehole monitoring data. Over the last 40 years, groundwater electrical conductivity values at the well field increased by about three times and groundwater levels declined by 1–3 m over the last decade. When put in perspective with the long-term climate (rainfall, temperature) and abstraction records, these trends in groundwater appear to be primarily driven by increased borehole abstraction (+400 m3/day per year in average), whereas observed increasing temperature (+0.02 °C per year) and decreasing rainfall (−0.8 mm per year) could potentially act as a secondary control through reduced recharge. However the low statistical significance obtained for both rainfall and temperature trends over the observation period suggests that no clear conclusion can be made with regards to long-term climate impact on groundwater. Groundwater quality mapping showed that proximity to the ocean, presence of abstraction well-fields and regional geology control groundwater salinity patterns at regional scale. Locally, geophysical data showed that, saltwater intrusion spatial patterns are controlled by local aquifer lithology, groundwater abstraction and freshwater recharge in floodplains. Comparison with previous (1984) resistivity data showed that the saltwater front has advanced toward the well-field by up to 2 km and rose by up to 80 m over the last 30 years, which corresponds to a maximal velocity of about 60 m/y horizontally and 2 m/y vertically. Implementation of groundwater management strategies such as sustainable groundwater exploitation, sourced alternative water supply, and managed aquifer recharge are required to mitigate the effects of seawater intrusion along the East African coastal strip.
- coastal aquifer system
- seawater intrusion
- electrical resistivity tomography
- groundwater time series