Rio Minho watershed study to determine flooding risks

Saturday, October 05, 2019

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RESEARCHERS from The University of the West Indies are doing studies of the Rio Minho in upper Clarendon to see how its sediment loads can be monitored to reduce flooding risk and other climate impacts.

The project, which is being led by Dr Arpita Mandal and a team of geologists, geomorphologists and a geographic information system expert from the Department of Geography and Geology, involves mapping and monitoring sediment load over time and estimating the impact of flooding and erosion.

“We selected about 15 sites or locations along the river and did river transects at each of these. Four additional sites were selected for planting erosion pegs; we are monitoring these sites every month,” explained Dr Mandal, who added that a model for flooding was also being done.

In order to effectively monitor the river and its response to weather changes the researchers have also installed two automated weather stations — one at Edwin Allen High school in Frankfield and the other at Clarendon College in Chapelton. These emit information to the National Meteorological Office, providing daily data for better forecasting and modelling.

Project Manager Irvin Adonis explained that the research generated from the project will help in policy and decision-making.

“It will aid in the decision-making for lives and livelihoods for people along the Rio Minho. It will aid in the decisions made for food security for the nation; and predict what possible changes will take place regarding land reformation due to erosion and other changes occurring,” he said, adding that the research could also inform agricultural decisions and planning.

“If you have an idea of the volume of run-off/discharge generated from a rainfall event passing through the canal, an estimate can be made of how much will stay in the channel and how much will [spill] over. So you can know the potential of an area to be flooded,” explained fellow team members Drs Donovan Blissett and David Miller.

“It speaks to the dynamic of prevention. Should you make more catchment areas, or divert the river? It gives you more information for planning. You will also know what to tell farmers re where to plant,” said another team member, Rupert Green, adding that this information can be estimated from the river profile survey carried out for the locations, and the flood model.

Farming is a major livelihood in the upper Rio Minho watershed area, which has roughly 40 communities and a population of 69,000 persons. Small farmers grow vegetables, yams, potatoes and other tubers, pulses, sorrel, condiments, banana, cereals, plantains and fruits.

The watershed has been designated by National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) as one of the most degraded in Jamaica and in need of critical intervention. This was a key reason why it was identified for intervention under the Adaptation Programme and Financing Mechanism (AP&FM) of the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) project, which commissioned The UWI to do the research on the Rio Minho's sediment budget.

The AP&FM will also be working with 33 of the communities in the watershed to install 1,800 micro check dams, 250 communal rainwater harvesting systems, five aquaponics systems; as well carrying reforestation agroforestry initiatives.

“The research being done by The UWI Department of Geography and Geology will provide data to ensure that interventions can reduce climate impacts such as flooding and drought,” said project manager for the AP&FM, Dr Winsome Townsend. “This will ensure that we minimise damage like what happened in the 2017 flooding.”

At that time the Rio Minho burst its banks and damaged bridges, farms and personal property for thousands of residents. The research team was earlier this year recognised by The UWI during its 2019 research day activities for the work in the watershed.


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