Surface and subsurface flow effect on permanent gully formation and upland erosion near Lake Tana in the northern highlands of Ethiopia
- 1Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY USA
- 2School of Civil and Water Resources Engineering Bahir Dar University Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
- 3Integrated Watershed Management and Hydrology Master Program, Cornell University at Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
- 4Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) Addet Ethiopia
- 5SWISHA, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
- 6Engineering Faculty Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Abstract. Gully formation in the Ethiopian Highlands has been identified as a major source of sediment in water bodies, and results in sever land degradation. Loss of soil from gully erosion reduces agricultural productivity and grazing land availability, and is one of the major causes of reservoir siltation in the Nile Basin. This study was conducted in the 523 ha Debre-Mawi watershed south of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where gullies are actively forming in the landscape. Historic gully development in a section of the Debre-Mawi watershed was estimated with semi structured farmer interviews, remotely sensed imagery, and measurements of current gully volumes. Gully formation was assessed by instrumenting the gully and surrounding area to measure water table levels and soil physical properties. Gully formation began in the late 1980's following the removal of indigenous vegetation, leading to an increase in surface and subsurface runoff from the hillsides. A comparison of the gully area, estimated from a 0.58 m resolution QuickBird image, with the current gully area mapped with a GPS, indicated that the total eroded area of the gully increased from 0.65 ha in 2005 to 1.0 ha in 2007 and 1.43 ha in 2008. The gully erosion rate, calculated from cross-sectional transect measurements, between 2007 and 2008 was 530 t ha−1 yr−1 in the 17.4 ha area contributing to the gully, equivalent to over 4 cm soil loss over the contributing area. As a comparison, we also measured rill and interrill erosion rates in a nearby section of the watershed, gully erosion rates were approximately 20 times the measured rill and interrill rates. Depths to the water table measured with piezometers showed that in the actively eroding sections of the gully the water table was above the gully bottom and, in stable gully sections the water table was below the gully bottom during the rainy season. The elevated water table appears to facilitate the slumping of gully walls, which causes the gully to widen and to migrate up the hillside.