The role of vegetation in the water budget of the Usangu wetlands, Tanzania
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The Usangu wetlands were severely degraded over the last twenty years by cattle and the shortage of water due to rice irrigation upstream. The eastern Usangu wetlands that were previously perennial dried out in 2000 and 2002 in the dry season. Following the removal of cattle in 2006 from the eastern Usangu wetlands, perennial wetlands has re-established itself and in 2011 the vegetation had recovered and covered about 95 % of the wetted surface mainly as floating vegetation. These wetlands are the source of water of the Great Ruaha River and the volume of water entering the river has nearly doubled after cattle removal. We suggest that this may be due to the shading effect of the floating vegetation reducing the loss of water through net evaporation to about 0.5 cm day−1 as opposed to about 1 cm day−1 for open water evaporation in this tropical climate. This suggests the important role of the biology in controlling the water budget. By contrast cattle and rice farms have not been removed from the western Usangu wetlands, located upstream, where the wetlands are now reduced to small areas fringing the rivers. We suggest that the western Usangu wetlands should also be restored in order to further increase flows in the Great Ruaha River. At the same time water governance in the catchments and irrigation areas upstream of Usangu wetlands is also urgently required because present water yields are insufficient to meet the hydroelectric needs of Tanzania, the water users all along the river, as well as the important coastal wetlands associated with the Rufiji Delta during a drought year.
KeywordsWater budget Vegetation cover Radar altimetry Surface water height Irrigation Cattle Evaporation
This study was supported by Tanzania National Parks and by the NASA grants NNX08AT88G and NNX08AM72G.
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