Relative impacts of key drivers on the response of the water table to a major alley farming experiment
- 1Aquatic Ecology and Ecosystem Studies, School of Environmental Systems Engineering, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia, 6009, Australia
- 2Center for Ecohydrology, School of Environmental Systems Engineering, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia, 6009, Australia
- 3Department of Environment and Conservation, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, Bentley, Western Australia, 6983, Australia
Abstract. Widespread clearing of native vegetation in Southwest Western Australia has led to land degradation associated with rising groundwater, secondary salinisation and waterlogging. Re-establishing deep-rooted perennial vegetation across parts of the landscape is one technique for managing land degradation. Alley farming is an agroforestry practice where multiple perennial tree belts are planted in alternation with traditional agricultural crops. To identify the best configuration (belt width versus alley width) for controlling rising groundwater levels and providing viable economic returns, a large scale experiment was established in 1995. The experiment contains seven different alley farming designs, each with transects of piezometers running across tree belts into adjacent alleys to monitor changes in the groundwater level. Two control piezometers were also installed in an adjacent paddock. Groundwater at the site is shallow (<3 m) and of poor quality (pH 3–5, Ec 2.1–45.9 mS cm−1) so root water uptake from the saturated zone is limited.
Simple hydrograph analysis could not separate treatment effects on the water table response. Subsequent statistical analysis revealed that 20–30% of the variability in the water table data over the 12 year study period was attributable to the alley farming experiment. To futher investigate the effect of the experiment on groundwater response, additional hydrograph analysis was conducted to compare the trends in the control piezometers in relation to those located within the belts. A difference of 0.9 m was observed between the mean groundwater levels in the control piezometers and the mean levels in the perennial belt piezometers. For a mean specific yield of 0.03 m3 m−3 (standard deviation of 0.03 m3 m−3) this equates to an additional average annual water use of 27 mm yr−1 (standard deviation of 33 mm yr−1) by the perennial agroforestry system. It is concluded that declining annual rainfall is the principal control on hydrograph response at the site, whilst perennial biomass development has a lesser impact on water table depth.