Characterization of groundwater discharge to rivers in the Shire River Basin, Malawi

Kelly, Laura and Bertram, Douglas and Kalin, Robert and Ngongondo, Cosmo (2019) Characterization of groundwater discharge to rivers in the Shire River Basin, Malawi. American Journal of Water Science and Engineering, 5 (4). pp. 127-138. ISSN 2575-1875

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    Abstract

    This study investigates groundwater discharge to rivers in the Shire River Basin, Malawi, using the base flow index (BFI) approach. The BFI represents the baseflow component of a river and is often used as a proxy indicator of groundwater discharge to a river. The smoothed minima method was applied to river flow data from 15 gauges in the Basin (ranging from 1948 to 2012) and the Mann-Kendall (MK) statistical test was used to identify trends in the BFI. The BFI results indicate that groundwater plays an important role in contributing to river flows in the SRB, especially in the dry season. Expressing the BFI as a percentage, these values indicate that annual groundwater discharge to the river’s ranges from 19% in the Rivirivi River to 97% in the Shire River. Seasonally, minimal difference was found between the annual and the wet season BFI. Generally, the dry season BFI was higher than those of the wet season with most rivers increasing to >75%. Groundwater data supported the seasonal fluctuations identified in the BFI data, however, there were no groundwater monitoring boreholes in close proximity to any of the river gauges for in-depth analysis. The results also showed long term trends in the BFI data indicating behavioural changes in the river baseflow and groundwater discharge. In some areas, the declines in BFI indicate that groundwater discharge has been reducing over time due to declines in groundwater levels. This is a concern for the sustainable management of water resources in the Basin. The findings of this study provide important new knowledge on the seasonal and long-term behaviour of groundwater discharge to rivers in the Basin which will be crucial for supporting sustainable water resources management practices. The results will be particularly useful to the new National Water Resources Authority within the Malawian Government, who will oversee catchment management plans.Keywords