Hydrological foundation as a basis for a holistic environmental flow assessment of tropical highland rivers in ethiopia

Wubneh B. Abebe, Seifu A. Tilahun, Michael M. Moges, Ayalew Wondie, Minychl G. Derseh, Teshager A. Nigatu, Demesew A. Mhiret, Tammo S. Steenhuis, Marc Van Camp, Kristine Walraevens, Michael E. McClain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The sustainable development of water resources includes retaining some amount of the natural flow regime in water bodies to protect and maintain aquatic ecosystem health and the human livelihoods and wellbeing dependent upon them. Although assessment of environmental flows is now occurring globally, limited studies have been carried out in the Ethiopian highlands, especially studies to understand flow-ecological response relationships. This paper establishes a hydrological foundation of Gumara River from an ecological perspective. The data analysis followed three steps: first, determination of the current flow regime-flow indices and ecologically relevant flow regime; second, naturalization of the current flow regime-looking at how flow regime is changing; and, finally, an initial exploration of flow linkages with ecological processes. Flow data of Gumara River from 1973 to 2018 are used for the analysis. Monthly low flow occurred from December to June; the lowest being in March, with a median flow of 4.0 m3 s-1. Monthly high flow occurred from July to November; the highest being in August, with a median flow of 236m3 s-1. 1-Day low flows decreased from 1.55 m3 s-1 in 1973 to 0.16 m3 s-1 in 2018, and 90-Day (seasonal) low flow decreased from 4.9 m3 s-1 in 1973 to 2.04 m3 s-1 in 2018. The Mann-Kendall trend test indicated that the decrease in low flow was significant for both durations at α = 0.05. A similar trend is indicated for both durations of high flow. The decrease in both low flows and high flows is attributed to the expansion of pump irrigation by 29 km2 and expansion of plantations, which resulted in an increase of NDVI from 0.25 in 2000 to 0.29 in 2019. In addition, an analysis of environmental flow components revealed that only four "large floods" appeared in the last 46 years; no "large flood" occurred after 1988. Lacking "large floods" which inundate floodplain wetlands has resulted in early disconnection of floodplain wetlands from the river and the lake; which has impacts on breeding and nursery habitat shrinkage for migratory fish species in Lake Tana. On the other hand, the extreme decrease in "low flow" components has impacts on predators, reducing their mobility and ability to access prey concentrated in smaller pools. These results serve as the hydrological foundation for continued studies in the Gumara catchment, with the eventual goal of quantifying environmental flow requirements.

Original languageEnglish
Article number547
Number of pages20
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Environmental flow component
  • Ethiopia
  • Holistic environmental flow assessment
  • Hydrological foundation
  • Indicators of hydrologic alteration software
  • Lake tana

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