Tolerance to waterlogging determines the effectiveness of biodrainage in mitigating runoff in hillslope-scale simulations

Liya Weldegebriel, Sally Thompson, Seifu Tilahun, Christian Guzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reversal of land degradation in agricultural systems through a wide range of natural resources management tailored to the specific climate, soil, and topography is crucial. This is especially critical for subsistence farming systems such as the Ethiopian Highlands, subject to some of the highest soil erosion rates in the world. Although biodrainage is widely and successfully used for waterlogging and erosion control in arid regions, it is not widely applied in sub-humid places like the Ethiopian Highlands. Beginning with field observations of the complex vertical soil profiles and variations in lithology and soil hydraulic properties along a hillslope ridge-channel transect in the Debre Mawi watershed of the Abay (Upper Blue Nile) Basin in the Ethiopian Highlands, we construct a synthetic model hillslope in HYRDUS-2D. For the growing season coinciding with the rainy season, known as Kiremt, we calibrated the hillslope water storage using observations of water table elevation. The synthetic hillslope is then used to test the feasibility of biodrainage to mitigate saturation, a major driver of gullying and soil loss in the area, and to identify plant traits to which such mitigation is sensitive. The simulation results using bare soil, eucalyptus and maize land covers revealed that in spite of low potential evapotranspiration during the Kiremt season, biodrainage with Eucalyptus can reduce the occurrence and duration of saturation of the top 0.6 m surface soil profile of the hillslope. Of the different plant traits explored, the maximum soil water potential at which the crop can transpire at potential rates, and the LAI, which controls potential evaporation rates via the crop coefficient, provide the most important controls on the effectiveness of biodrainage in desaturating the hillslope. We conclude that biodrainage strategies to mitigate soil erosion in sub humid locales merits further investigation through empirical trials. However, implementation of biodrainage strategies should be subject to thoughtful consideration of the implications for socio-economic outcomes and the local environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108149
Number of pages14
Early online date20 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jun 2024


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