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Impact of soil and water conservation measures on soil erosion rate and sediment yields in a tropical watershed in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Diyabalanage, Saranga, Samarakoon, K.K., Adikari, S.B., Hewawasam, Tilak
Applied geography 2017 v.79 pp. 103-114
conservation programs, erodibility, geography, highlands, land use, monitoring, sediment yield, soil conservation, soil erosion, streams, subwatersheds, vegetation, water conservation, water power, Sri Lanka
The Upper Mahaweli Catchment (UMC) is a very important watershed in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka since it contains a series of multipurpose reservoirs. Hence, conservation of soil in the UMC should be given the highest priority to reduce sediment yields in streams and to maintain the storage capacities of hydropower reservoirs. The sediment yields measured in the sub-catchments of the UMC before 1995 have revealed that soil erosion is intense in the contributing catchments and siltation in some reservoirs is at an alarming level. The situation in the Upper Uma Oya, a sub-catchment of the UMC, is the worst, reporting the highest sediment yield measured for any catchment in Sri Lanka. Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka had embarked on two soil and water conservation projects in the Upper Uma Oya catchment from 1995 to 2005 together with monitoring of sediment yields in the stream. Sediment yield measurements in this catchment revealed that the wash load in the stream had been reduced by a factor of five after the implementation of conservation programmes in 1995. Our temporal analyses showed that the role of the other key factors that control soil erosion on a hillslope such as erodibility, slope, erosivity and land use cover is minimal to generate a five-fold reduction in the wash load of the stream. Hence, we report that the conservation measures adopted in the critical areas of the Upper Uma Oya have been very successful and had greatly contributed to the reduction of soil erosion. However, even after conservation, soil erosion rates estimated by stream loads are about 10 times higher than the natural background rate. Hence, as shown in other catchments elsewhere in the world, the ongoing rate of soil erosion can be further lowered by strengthening the existing soil and water management practices together with restoration of vegetation on bare lands.