Articles | Volume 18, issue 8
Research article
28 Aug 2014
Research article |  | 28 Aug 2014

Balancing ecosystem services with energy and food security – Assessing trade-offs from reservoir operation and irrigation investments in Kenya's Tana Basin

A. P. Hurford and J. J. Harou

Abstract. Competition for water between key economic sectors and the environment means agreeing allocations is challenging. Managing releases from the three major dams in Kenya's Tana River basin with its 4.4 million inhabitants, 567 MW of installed hydropower capacity, 33 000 ha of irrigation and ecologically important wetlands and forests is a pertinent example. This research seeks firstly to identify and help decision-makers visualise reservoir management strategies which result in the best possible (Pareto-optimal) allocation of benefits between sectors. Secondly, it seeks to show how trade-offs between achievable benefits shift with the implementation of proposed new rice, cotton and biofuel irrigation projects. To approximate the Pareto-optimal trade-offs we link a water resources management simulation model to a multi-criteria search algorithm. The decisions or "levers" of the management problem are volume-dependent release rules for the three major dams and extent of investment in new irrigation schemes. These decisions are optimised for eight objectives covering the provision of water supply and irrigation, energy generation and maintenance of ecosystem services. Trade-off plots allow decision-makers to assess multi-reservoir rule-sets and irrigation investment options by visualising their impacts on different beneficiaries. Results quantify how economic gains from proposed irrigation schemes trade-off against the disturbance of ecosystems and local livelihoods that depend on them. Full implementation of the proposed schemes is shown to come at a high environmental and social cost. The clarity and comprehensiveness of "best-case" trade-off analysis is a useful vantage point from which to tackle the interdependence and complexity of "water-energy-food nexus" resource security issues.