Blue Nile Hydrosolidarity

Assessment of Soil Erosion Hazard and Prioritization for Treatment at the Watershed Level

Soil erosion by water is the most pressing environmental problem in Ethiopia, particularly in the Highlands where the topography is highly rugged, population pressure is high, steeplands are cultivated and rainfall is erosive. Soil conservation is critically required in these areas.

The objective of this study was to assess soil erosion hazard in a typical highland watershed (the Chemoga watershed) and demonstrate that a simple erosion assessment model, the universal soil loss equation (USLE), integrated with satellite remote sensing and geographical information systems can provide useful tools for conservation decision-making. Monthly precipitation, soil map, a 30-m digital elevation model derived from topographic map, land-cover map produced from supervised classification of a Land Sat image, and land use types and slope steepness were used to determine the USLE factor values. The results show that a larger part of the watershed (>58 per cent of total) suffers from a severe or very severe erosion risk (>80 t ha−1 y−1), mainly in the midstream and upstream parts where steeplands are cultivated or overgrazed. In about 25 per cent of the watershed, soil erosion was estimated to exceed 125 t ha−1 y−1. Based on the predicted soil erosion rates, the watershed was divided into six priority categories for conservation intervention and 18 micro-watersheds were identified that may be used as planning units. Finally, the method used has yielded a fairly reliable estimation of soil loss rates and delineation of erosion-prone areas. Hence, a similar method can be used in other watersheds to prepare conservation master plans and enable efficient use of limited resources.