Analysing the Effects of Forest Cover and Irrigation Farm Dams on Streamflows of Water-Scarce Catchments in South Australia through the SWAT Model

Abstract

To assist water resource managers with future land use planning efforts, the eco-hydrological model Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) was applied to three catchments in South Australia that experience extreme low flow conditions. Particular land uses and management issues of interest included forest covers, known to affect water yields, and farm dams, known to intercept and change the hydrological dynamics in a catchment. The study achieved a satisfactory daily calibration when irrigation farm dams were incorporated in the model. For the catchment dominated by extreme low flows, a better daily simulation across a range of qualitative and quantitative metrics was gained using the base-flow static threshold optimization technique. Scenario analysis on effects of forest cover indicated an increase of surface flow and a reduction of base-flow when native eucalyptus lands were replaced by pastures and vice versa. A decreasing trend was observed for the overall water yield of catchments with more forest plantation due to the higher evapotranspiration (ET) rate and the decline in surface flow. With regards to effects of irrigation farm dams, assessment on a daily time step suggested that a significant volume of water is stored in these systems with the water loss rate highest in June and July. On an annual basis, the model indicated that approximately 13.1% to 22.0% of water has been captured by farm dams for irrigation. However, the scenario analysis revealed that the purposes of use of farm dams rather than their volumetric capacities in the catchment determined the magnitude of effects on streamflows. Water extracted from farm dams for irrigation of orchards and vineyards are more likely to diminish streamflows than other land uses. Outputs from this study suggest that the water use restrictions from farm dams during recent drought periods were an effective tool to minimize impacts on streamflows.

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