Repository logo

The hydrological basis for the protection of water resources to meet environmental and societal requirements.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In common with other natural systems, aquatic ecosystems provide a wealth of economically valuable services and long-term benefits to society. However, growing human populations, coupled with increased aspirations for improved quality of life, have lead to intense pressure on the world's finite freshwater resources. Frequently, particularly in developing countries, there are both perceived and genuine incompatibilities between ecological and societal needs for freshwater. Environmental Flow Assessment (EFA) is essentially a tool for water resources management and its ultimate goal should be the integration of ecological and societal systems. While other ecological components (i.e. biological and geomorphological) are equally important to EFA, this thesis investigates the role of the hydrological cycle and the hydrological regime in providing the ecosystem goods and services upon which society depends. Ecological and societal systems operate at different temporal, spatial and organisational scales and hydronomic zoning or sub-zoning is proposed as an appropriate water resources management technique for matching these different scales. A major component of this thesis is a review of the South African water resources management framework and, in particular, the role of the Reserve (comprising a basic human right to survival water as well as an ecological right of the aquatic resource to maintain ecological functioning) in facilitating ecologically sustainable water resources management. South African water resources management is in the early stages of water allocation reform and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has stated that "the water allocation process must allow for the sustainable use of water resources and must promote the efficient and non-wasteful use of water". Thus, new ways of approaching the compromise between ecological and societal needs for freshwater water are required. This thesis argues that this requires that the focus of freshwater ecosystems be extended beyond the aquatic resource, so that societal activities on the catchment are linked to the protection of instream flows. Streamflow variability plays a major role in structuring the habitat templates that sustain aquatic and riparian ecological functioning and has been associated with increased biodiversity. Biodiversity and societal well-being are interlinked. However, there is a need in EFA for knowledge of the most influential components of the streamflow regime in order that stakeholders may anticipate any change in ecosystem goods and services as a result of their disruption to the hydrological cycle. The identification of high information hydrological indicators for characterising highly variable streamflow regimes is useful to water resources management, particularly where thresholds of streamflow regime characteristics have ecological relevance. Several researchers have revisited the choice of hydrological indices in order to ascertain whether some indices explain more of the hydrological variability in different aspects of streamflow regimes than others. However, most of the research relating to hydrological indices has focused primarily on regions with temperate climates. In this thesis multivariate analysis is applied to a relatively large dataset of readily computed ecologically relevant hydrological indices (including the Indicators of Hydrological Alteration and the South African Desktop Reserve Model indices) extracted from long-term records of daily flows at 83 sites across South Africa. Principal Component Analysis is applied in order to highlight general patterns of intercorrelation, or redundancy, among the indices and to identify a minimum subset of hydrological indices which explain the majority of the variation among the indices of different components of the streamflow regimes found in South Africa. The results indicate the value of including several of the IHA indices in EFAs for South African rivers. Statistical analysis is meaningful only when calculated for a sufficiently long hydrological record, and in this thesis the length of record necessary to obtain consistent hydrological indices, with minimal influence of climatic variation, is investigated. The results provide a guide to the length of record required for analysis of the high information hydrological indices representing the main components of the streamflow regime, for different streamflow types. An ecosystem-based approach which recognises the hydrological connectivity of the catchment landscape in linking aquatic and terrestrial systems is proposed as a framework for ecologically sustainable water resources management. While this framework is intended to be generic, its potential for application in the South African Water Allocation Reform is illustrated with a case study for the Mkomazi Catchment in KwaZulu-Natal. Hydronomic sub-zoning, based on the way in which societal activities disrupt the natural hydrological processes, both off-stream and instream, is applied to assess the incompatibilities between societal and ecological freshwater needs. Reference hydrological, or pre-development, conditions in the Mkomazi Catchment are simulated using the ACRU agrohydrological model. Management targets, based on the statistical analysis of pre-development streamflow regimes, are defined to assess the degree of hydrological alteration in the high information hydrological indices of the Mkomazi Catchment as a result of different societal activities. Hydrological alteration from predevelopment conditions is assessed using the Range of Variability Approach. The results indicate that the proposed framework is useful to the formulation of stakeholder-based catchment management plans. Applying hydrological records (either observed or simulated) as an ecological resource is highly appropriate for assessing the variability that ecosystems need to maintain the biodiversity, ecological functioning and resilience that people and society desire.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2006.


Hydrology--South Africa., Hydrologic cycle--South Africa., Hydrology--Research--South Africa., Hydrologic models--South Africa., Water resources management--South Africa., Water balance (Hydrology)--South Africa., Freshwater ecology--South Africa., Streamflow--Environmental aspects--South Africa., Mkomazi River Watershed--Management--KwaZulu-Natal., Watershed management--KwaZulu-Natal--Mkomazi River., Theses--Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology.