Science of the Total Environment vol:511 pages:756-766
During the past decades, land use change in the Lake Victoria basin has significantly increased the sediment fluxes to the lake. These sediments as well as their associated nutrients and pollutants affect the food and
water security of millions of people in one of Africa's most densely populated regions. Adequate catchment management strategies, based on a thorough understanding of the factors controlling runoff and sediment discharge
are therefore crucial. Nonetheless, studies on the magnitude and dynamics of runoff and sediment discharge are
very scarce for the Lake Victoria basin and the African Rift region.
We therefore conducted runoff discharge and sediment export measurements in the Upper Rwizi, a catchment in Southwest Uganda, which is representative for the Lake Victoria basin. Land use in this catchment is characterized by grazing area on the high plateaus, banana cropping on the slopes and Cyperus papyrus L. wetlands in the valley bottoms. Due to an increasing population pressure, these papyrus wetlands are currently encroached and transformed into pasture and cropland. Seven subcatchments (358 km2–2120 km2), with different degrees of wetland encroachment, were monitored during the hydrological
year June 2009–May 2010.
Our results indicate that, due to their strong buffering capacity, papyrus wetlands have a first-order control on
runoff and sediment discharge. Subcatchments with intact wetlands have a slower rainfall–runoff response, smaller peak runoff discharges, lower rainfall–runoff ratios and significantly smaller suspended sediment concentrations.
This is also reflected in the measured annual area-specific suspended sediment yields (SYs): subcatchments with encroached papyrus swamps have SY values that are about three times larger compared to catchments with intact papyrus vegetation (respectively 106–137 ton km−2 y−1 versus 34–37 ton km−2-y−1). We therefore argue that protecting and (where possible) rehabilitating these papyrus wetlands should be a corner stone of catchment management strategies in the Lake Victoria basin