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Impacts of improved grazing land management on sediment yields. Part 2: Catchment response

Bartley, Rebecca, Wilkinson, Scott N., Hawdon, Aaron A., Abbott, Brett N., Post, David A.
Journal of hydrology 2010 v.389 no.3-4 pp. 249-259
economic feasibility, grazing, grazing management, image analysis, investment, landscapes, rain, rivers, runoff, satellites, sediment yield, sediments, soil erosion, water use, watershed management, watersheds, wet season, Australia
In many agricultural regions investments are made into improved land management and catchment restoration with the aim of reducing sediment and nutrient delivery to downstream water bodies. This paper presents the results of an 8year field study that evaluated the impact of improved grazing land management (GLM) on a 14km² sub-catchment of the Burdekin River in northern Australia. Land condition recovery and changes to runoff and sediment yield were measured on hillslopes (using three flumes) and at the end of the catchment (using automatic water sampling). Ground cover was monitored at the beginning of the wet season at hillslope and catchment scales using direct measurement and Quickbird satellite imagery. At the catchment scale, improved GLM resulted in an increase in mean ground cover between 2003 and 2007, relative to a control grazing property. However, the total suspended sediment yield from hillslopes did not decline due to the disproportionately high yields from low (<10%) cover sites particularly in high runoff years. In 2007, when there was above-average rainfall, 97% of the hillslope derived fine sediment was coming from less than 3% of the catchment. Catchment sediment yield also increased, associated with higher rainfall and runoff in latter years of the study. In years of above-average rainfall, it is estimated that less than 40% of catchment sediment yield was derived from hillslope erosion. Channel erosion is considered to contribute the remaining sediment. Rehabilitation of hillslope scalds and gullies is likely to be an important companion to improved GLM to reduce catchment fine sediment yields in this landscape. Evaluation of gully and hillslope scald rehabilitation techniques is required, including the economic feasibility of such options.