Defining small catchment runoff responses using hillslope hydrological process observations.
The Umzimvubu catchment on the eastern coastal escarpment of South Africa is sensitive to anthropogenic influences,with commercial and subsistence agriculture, irrigation, domestic and rural settlements and forestry compete for water use. An adequate supply of water to the region is seen as imperative in the light of the recent establishment of forest cultivation. In order to provide a sound assessment of the impacts of afforestation on the catchment, the subsurface hydrological processes of hillslopes on the Molteno sedimentary formations of the region must be clearly understood. Since the runoff hydrograph is, to a large degree, dependent on the subsurface processes, a number of models that simulate small catchment runoff have been developed. However, recent successful application of tracer techniques to hydrological modelling has shown that the subsurface processes are still not fully understood (Schultz, 1999), and whether or not the subsurface processes are modelled adequately is most often not verified, since there is a lack of relevant data. It is, therefore imperative that the subsurface component of these small catchment runoff models be improved. This can be achieved by first observing detailed subsurface water dynamics and assessing these against the catchment runoff response. In this dissertation, results from a detailed experiment that was initiated in a 1.5 km2 catchment in the northern East Cape Province are shown. Nests of automated tensiometers, groundwater level recorders and weather stations have been placed at critical points around the catchment, and these , together with soil hydraulic and physical characteristics are used to define and identify the dominant hillslope processes. Two crump weirs record runoff from these hillslopes. The results of this subsurface study highlight the dynamics of surface and subsurface water in the hillslope transects. It is evident that the subsurface processes are strongly influenced by the -bedrock topography as well as the soil characteristics, such as macropore flow and deep percolation. Using the monitored data and 2-D vadose zone modelling, the dominant hillslope processes have been defined and are used to aid in the selection of critical parameters to be used in estimating the catchment runoff. Results show that a clear understanding of the subsurface dynamics can lead to a realistic estimation of catchment scale runoff response.