Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 951–966 | Cite as

Analyzing the hydrologic effects of region-wide land and water development interventions: a case study of the Upper Blue Nile basin

  • Nigussie HaregeweynEmail author
  • Atsushi Tsunekawa
  • Mitsuru Tsubo
  • Derege Meshesha
  • Enew Adgo
  • Jean Poesen
  • Brigitta Schütt
Original Article


In the drylands of the Upper Blue Nile basin, high climate variability and land degradation are rampant. To enhance adaptive capacity in the region, various soil and water conservation interventions have been implemented. Moreover, water resources development schemes such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam should be implemented by 2025. We modeled the effects of these interventions on surface runoff in the basin for both current and future (2025) basin conditions, using the runoff coefficient method in a spatially explicit approach. Under current conditions, we observed high spatial variability of mean annual runoff. The northeastern Blue Nile-1 sub-basin produces the highest mean annual runoff (391 mm or 10 × 109 m3), whereas the northwestern Blue Nile-2 sub-basin produces the lowest mean annual runoff (178 mm or 0.2 × 109 m3). The basin generates a total annual runoff volume of 47.7 × 109 m3, of which about 54 % comes from cultivated land. The strong association between land use and topography masked the direct effect of rainfall on runoff. By 2025, total annual runoff yield could decrease by up to 38 % if appropriate basin-wide soil and water conservation interventions and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are implemented. However, the full effects of most physical structures will only last for 1 or 2 years without regular maintenance. The improved understanding of the dynamics of the Upper Blue Nile basin’s hydrology provided by the present study will help planners to design appropriate management scenarios. Developing the basin’s database remains important for a holistic understanding of the impacts of future development interventions.


Drylands Soil and water conservation Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Runoff coefficient Spatial variability of runoff 



The research was funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology (MEXT), and by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). The lead author was funded through the JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship for Overseas Researchers. Finally, we would like to thank subject editor Dr Erika Coppola and the two anonymous reviewers for providing very valuable comments on the earlier version of this paper.


  1. Amarasekera KN, Lee RF, Williams ER, Eltahir EAB (1997) ENSO and the natural variability in the flow of tropical rivers. J Hydrol 200:24–39. doi: 10.1016/S0022-1694(96)03340-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Araya T, Cornelis WM, Nyssen J, Govaerts B, Bauer H, Gebreegziabher T, Oicha T, Raes D, Sayre KD, Haile M, Deckers J (2011) Effects of conservation agriculture on runoff, soil loss and crop yield under rainfed conditions in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Soil Use Manag 27:404–414. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-2743.2011.00347.x Google Scholar
  3. Awulachew SB, McCartney M, Ibrahim Y, Shiferaw YS (2008) Evaluation of water availability and allocation in the Blue Nile Basin. In: Humphreys E, Bayot RS, van Brakel M, Gichuki F et al (eds) Fighting poverty through sustainable water use: volumes I, II, III and IV. Proceedings of the CGIAR challenge program on water and food 2nd international forum on water and food, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 10–14, 2008. The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, Colombo, 217 ppGoogle Scholar
  4. Beyene T, Lettenmaier DP, Kabat P (2010) Hydrologic impacts of climate change on the Nile River Basin: implications of the 2007 IPCC Climate Scenarios. Clim Change 100:433–461. doi: 10.1007/s10584-009-9693-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biondi D, Freni G, Iacobellis V, Mascaro G, Montanari A (2012) Validation of hydrological models: conceptual basis, methodological approaches and a proposal for a code of practice. Phys Chem Earth 42–44:70–76. doi: 10.1016/j.pce.2011.07.037 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooks KN, Ffolliott PF, Gregersen HM, DeBano LF (2003) Hydrology and the management of watersheds. Blackwell, MinesotaGoogle Scholar
  7. CDT (California Department of Transportation) (2006) Highway design manual: hydrology 8101-25. Accessed 28 Feb 2014
  8. Conway D (1997) A water balance model of the Upper Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Hydrol Sci J 42(2):265–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Conway D (2000) The climate and hydrology of the Upper Blue Nile river. Geogr J 166(1):49–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2000.tb00006.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Conway D, Hulme M (1993) Recent fluctuations in precipitation and runoff over the Nile sub-basins and their impact on main Nile discharge. Clim Change 25:127–151. doi: 10.1007/BF01661202 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Conway D, Hulme M (1996) The impacts of climate variability and future climate change in the Nile basin on water resources in Egypt. Water Resour Dev 12:277–296. doi: 10.1080/07900629650178 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DeFries R, Eshleman KN (2004) Land use change and hydrologic processes: a major focus for the future. Hydrol Process 18:2183–2186. doi: 10.1002/hyp.5584 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Deressa TT, Hassan RM, Ringler C, Alemu T, Yesuf M (2009) Determinants of farmers’ choice of adaptation methods to climate change in the Nile Basin of Ethiopia. Glob Environ Change 19:248–255. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.01.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Descheemaeker K, Nyssen J, Rossi J, Poesen J, Haile M, Moeyersons J, Deckers J (2006a) Sediment deposition and pedogenesis in exclosures in the Tigray Highlands, Ethiopia. Geoderma 132:291–314. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2005.04.027 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Descheemaeker K, Nyssen J, Poesen J, Raes D, Haile M, Muys B, Deckers S (2006b) Runoff on slopes with restoring vegetation: a case study from the Tigray highlands, Ethiopia. J Hydrol 331:219–241. doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2006.05.015 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dinku T, Ceccato P, Grover-kopec E, Lemma M, Connor SJ, Ropelewski CF (2007) Validation of satellite rainfall products over East Africa’s complex Topography. Int J Remote Sens 28(7):1503–1526. doi: 10.1080/01431160600954688 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eltahir EAB, Bras RL (1996) Precipitation recycling. Rev Geophys 34(3):367–378. doi: 10.1029/96RG01927 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. FAO (1988) FAO/UNESCO soil map of the World: revised legend. FAO World resources report 60. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  19. Frankl A, Poesen J, Scholiers N, Jacob M, Haile Mitiku, Deckers J, Nyssen J (2013) Factors controlling the morphology and volume (V)–length (L) relations of permanent gullies in the Northern Ethiopian Highlands. Earth Surf Proc Land 38:1672–1684. doi: 10.1002/esp.3405 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fritz S, See L, McCallum I, Schill C, Obersteiner M, van der Velde M, Boettcher H, Havlik P, Achard F (2011) Highlighting continued uncertainty in global land cover maps for the user community. Environ Res Lett 6:044005. Accessed 24 Feb 2013
  21. Gebreegziabher T, Nyssen J, Govaerts B, Getnet F, Behailu M, Haile M, Deckers J (2009) Contour furrows for in situ soil and water conservation, Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Soil Tillage Res 103:257–264. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2008.05.021 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gebrehiwot SG, Seibert J, Gardenas A, Mellander P, Bishop K (2013) Hydrological change detection using modeling: half a century of runoff from four rivers in the Blue Nile Basin. Water Resour Res 49(6):3842–3851. doi: 10.1002/wrcr.20319 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gebremicael TG, Mohamed YA, Betrie GD, van der Zaag P, Teferi E (2013) Trend analysis of runoff and sediment fluxes in the Upper Blue Nile basin: a combined analysis of statistical tests, physically-based models and landuse maps. J Hydrol 482:57–68. doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.12.023 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Geiger WF, Marsalek J, Rawls WJ, Zuidema FC (1987) Manual on drainage in urbanized areas. Vol. 1, Planning and design of drainage systems. Studies and Reports in Hydrology, UNESCOGoogle Scholar
  25. Gissila T, Black E, Grimes DIF, Slingo JM (2004) Seasonal forecasting of the Ethiopian summer rains. Int J Climatol 24(11):1345–1358. doi: 10.1002/joc.1078 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. GoE (Government of Ethiopia) (2007) Climate Change National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) of Ethiopia. Ministry of Water Resources and National Meteorological Agency, June 2007. Working paper, Addis AbabaGoogle Scholar
  27. Haregeweyn N, Berhe A, Tsunekawa A, Tsubo M, Meshesha DT (2012) Participatory integrated watershed management, an effective approach to curb land degradation: a case study of the Enabered watershed, northern Ethiopia. J Environ Manag 50:1219–1233. doi: 10.1007/s00267-012-9952-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Haregeweyn N, Poesen J, Tsunekawa A, Tsubo M, Vanmaercke M, Zenebe A, Nyssen J, Meshesha DT, Adgo E (2015) Sediment yield variability at various catchment scales and its impact on reservoirs in the Ethiopian Highlands. In: Billi P (ed) Landscapes and landforms of Ethiopia. A book series of the geomorphological landscapes of the world. Springer, Netherlands. doi: 10.1007/978-94-017-8026-1_13
  29. Harris GL, Clements RO, Rose SC, Parkin A, Shepherd M (2004) Review of impacts of rural land use and management on flood generation. Impact study report. R&D Technical Report FD2114/TR. Newcastle University, NewcastleGoogle Scholar
  30. Herweg K, Ludi E (1999) The performance of selected soil and water conservation measures: case studies from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Catena 36:99–114. doi: 10.1016/S0341-8162(99)00004-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Herweg K, Stillhardt B (1999) The variability of soil erosion in the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Soil conservation research project, research report 42. Centre for Development and Environment, University of Berne, BerneGoogle Scholar
  32. Jakeman AJ, Hornberger GM (1993) How much complexity is warranted in a rainfall-runoff model? Water Resour Res 29(8):2637–2649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Johnson PA, Curtis PD (1994) Water balance of Blue Nile River basin in Ethiopia. J Irrig Drain Eng 120:573–590. doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9437 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kerr JM, Pangare G, Pangare V (2002) Watershed development projects in India: an evaluation. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  35. Kim U, Kaluarachchi JJ (2009) Climate change impacts on water resources in the upper Blue Nile River Basin, Ethiopia. J Am Water Resour Assoc 45(6):1361–1378. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2009.00369.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mishra A, Hata T (2006) A grid-based runoff generation and flow routing model for the Upper Blue Nile basin. Hydrol Sci J 51(2):191–206. doi: 10.1623/hysj.51.2.191 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. MoARD (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) (2006) Watershed management guidelines. Agriculture Sector Support Project (ASSP), Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Addis AbabaGoogle Scholar
  38. Mohamed YA, van den Hurk BJJM, Savenije HHG, Bastiaanssen WGM (2005) Hydroclimatology of the Nile: results from a regional climate model. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 9(3):263–278. doi: 10.5194/hess-9-263-2005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nyssen J, Poesen J, Gebremichael D, Vancampenhout K, D’aes M, Yihdego G, Govers G, Leirs H, Moeyesons J, Naudts J, Haregeweyn N, Deckers J, Mitiku H (2007) Interdisciplinary on-site evaluation of stone bunds to control soil erosion on cropland in northern Ethiopia. Soil Tillage Res 94:151–163. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2006.07.011 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nyssen J, Clymans W, Poesen J, Vandecasteele I, De Baets S, Haregeweyn N, Naudts J, Hadera A, Moeyersons J, Haile M, Deckers J (2009) How soil conservation affects the catchment sediment budget: a comprehensive study in the north Ethiopian highlands. Earth Surf Proc Land 34:1216–1233. doi: 10.1002/esp.1805 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nyssen J, Clymans W, Descheemaeker K, Poesen J, Vandecasteele I, Vanmaercke M, Zenebe A, Van Camp M, Haile M, Haregeweyn N, Moeyersons J, Martens K, Gebreyohannes T, Deckers J, Walraevens K (2010) Impact of soil and water conservation on catchment hydrological response: a case in north Ethiopia. Hydrol Process 24(13):1880–1895. doi: 10.1002/hyp.7628 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rientjes THM, Haile AT, Kebede E, Mannaerts CMM, Habib E, Steenhuis TS (2011) Changes in land cover, rainfall and stream flow in Gilgel Abbay catchment, Upper Blue Nile basin—Ethiopia. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 15:1979–1989. doi: 10.5194/hess-15-1979-2011 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Satterlund DR, Adams PW (1992) Wildland watershed management, 2nd edn. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  44. Schütt B, Förch G, Thiemann S (2005) Soil erosion processes and landscape sensitivity in the Ethiopian Highlands. In: Prasad H, Abate K, Ondieki CM (eds) Sustainable management of water resources: challenges and Prospects. Kenyatta University, Nairobi, pp 177–203Google Scholar
  45. Seleshi Y, Zanke U (2004) Recent changes in rainfall and rainy days in Ethiopia. Int J Climatol 24(8):973–983. doi: 10.1002/joc.1052 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Senay GB, Asante K, Artan G (2009) Water balance dynamics in the Nile Basin. Hydrol Process 23(26):3675–3681. doi: 10.1002/hyp.7364 Google Scholar
  47. Setegn S, Rayner D, Melesse AM, Dargahi B, Srinivasan R (2011) Impact of climate change on the hydroclimatology of Lake Tana Basin, Ethiopia. Water Resour Res 47:1–13. doi: 10.1029/2010WR009248 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. SLMP (2013) Sustainable Land Management (SLMP) Project II Revised Final Draft Document on Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF), Addis Ababa, September 2013, 70 ppGoogle Scholar
  49. Strzepek KM, Yates N, Quosy DE (1996) Vulnerability assessment of water resources in Egypt to climatic change in the Nile Basin. Clim Res 6:89–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Taye MT, Willems P (2013) Identifying sources of temporal variability in hydrological extremes of the upper Blue Nile basin. J Hydrol 499:61–70. doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.06.053 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Taye G, Poesen J, Van Wesemael B, Goosse T, Teka D, Deckers J, Hallet V, Haregeweyn N, Nyssen J, Maetens W (2013) Effects of land use, slope gradient and soil and water conservation techniques, on runoff and soil loss in a semi-arid environment. J Phys Geogr 34(3):236–259. doi: 10.1080/02723646.2013.832098 Google Scholar
  52. Taye G, Poesen J, Vanmaercke M, van Wesemael B, Marten L, Teka D, Nyssen J, Deckers J, Vanacker V, Haregeweyn N, Hallet V (2015) Evolution of the effectiveness of stone bunds and trenches in reducing runoff and soil loss in the semi-arid Ethiopian highlands. Z Geomorphol. doi: 10.1127/zfg/2015/0166 Google Scholar
  53. Teka D, van Wesemael B, Vanacker V, Poesen J, Hallet V, Taye G, Decker J, Haregeweyn N (2013) Evaluating the performance of reservoirs in semi-arid catchments of Tigray: tradeoff between water harvesting and soil and water conservation. Catena 110:146–154. doi: 10.1016/j.catena.2013.06.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tekleab S, Uhlenbrook S, Mohamed Y, Savenije HHG, Temesgen M, Wenninger J (2011) Water balance modeling of the upper Blue Nile catchments using a top-down approach. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 15:2179–2193. doi: 10.5194/hess-15-2179-2011 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tekleab S, Mohamed Y, Uhlenbrook S (2013) Hydro-climatic trends in the Abay/Upper Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia. J Phys Chem Earth 61–62:32–42. doi: 10.1016/j.pce.2013.04.017 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tekleab S, Mohamed Y, Uhlenbrook S, Wenninger J (2014a) Hydrologic responses to land cover change: the case of Jedeb mesoscale catchment, Abay/Upper Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia. Hydrol Process 28(20):5149–5161. doi: 10.1002/hyp.9998 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tekleab S, Wenninger J, Uhlenbrook S (2014b) Characterisation of stable isotopes to identify residence times and runoff components in two meso-scale catchments in the Abay/Upper Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 18(6):2415–2431. doi: 10.5194/hess-18-2415-2014 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Temesgen M, Uhlenbrook S, Simane B, van der Zaag P, Mohamed Y, Wenninger J, Savenije HG (2012) Impacts of conservation tillage on the hydrological and agronomic performance of Fanya juus in the Upper Blue Nile (Abbay) river basin. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 16:4725–4735. doi: 10.5194/hess-16-4725-2012 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Thiemann S, Schütt B, Förch G (2005) Assessment of erosion and soil erosion processes: a case study from the Northern Ethiopian Highland. FWU Water Resour Publ 3:173–185Google Scholar
  60. Tsidu GM (2012) High-resolution monthly rainfall database for Ethiopia: homogenization, reconstruction, and gridding. J Clim 25:8422–8443. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00027.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Uhlenbrook S, Mohamed Y, Gragne AS (2010) Analyzing catchment behavior through catchment modeling in the Gilgel Abay, Upper Blue Nile River Basin, Ethiopia. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 14(10):2153–2165. doi: 10.5194/hess-14-2153-2010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. UNECA-ACPC (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa-African Climate Policy Center) (2011) An assessment of Africa’S Climate observing networks and data including strategies for rescuing of climatic data. Working Paper 3, 32ppGoogle Scholar
  63. UNEP (2013) Adaptation to climate-change induced water stress in the Nile Basin: a vulnerability assessment report. Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA). United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  64. Vancampenhout K, Nyssen J, Gebremichael D, Deckers J, Poesen J, Haile M, Moeyersons J (2006) Stone bunds for soil conservation in the northern Ethiopian highlands: impacts on soil fertility and crop yield. Soil Tillage Res 90:1–15. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2005.08.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Whitmore J (1967) Effects of catchment management on river flow characteristics. Technical report 39. Department of Water Affairs, Republic of South Africa, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  66. Whittington D, Waterbury J, Jeuland M (2014) The Grand Renaissance Dam and prospects for cooperation on the Eastern Nile. Water Policy 16(4):595–608. doi: 10.2166/wp.2014.011 Google Scholar
  67. Zaroug MAH, Eltahir EAB, Giorgi F (2014) Droughts and floods over the upper catchment of the Blue Nile and their connections to the timing of El Niño and La Niña events. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 18:1239–1249. doi: 10.5194/hess-18-1239-2014 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Zenebe A, Vanmaercke M, Poesen J, Verstraeten G, Haregeweyn N, Haile M, Amare K, Deckers J, Nyssen J (2013) Spatial and temporal variability of river flows in the degraded semi-arid tropical mountains of northern Ethiopia. Z Geomorphol 57(2):143–169. doi: 10.1127/0372-8854/2012/0080 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nigussie Haregeweyn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Atsushi Tsunekawa
    • 2
  • Mitsuru Tsubo
    • 3
  • Derege Meshesha
    • 2
  • Enew Adgo
    • 4
  • Jean Poesen
    • 5
  • Brigitta Schütt
    • 6
  1. 1.International Platform for Dryland Research and EducationTottori UniversityTottoriJapan
  2. 2.Arid Land Research CenterTottori UniversityTottoriJapan
  3. 3.Institute for Soil, Climate and WaterAgricultural Research CouncilPretoriaSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of Natural Resources ManagementBahir Dar UniversityBahir DarEthiopia
  5. 5.Division of Geography, Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesKU LeuvenHeverleeBelgium
  6. 6.Department of Earth Sciences, Institute of Geographical SciencesFU BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations