A water balance-based Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) for improved performance in the Ethiopian highlands uri icon


  • The Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) is a watershed model widely used to predict water quantity and quality under varying land use and water use regimes. To determine the respective amounts of infiltration and surface runoff, SWAT uses the popular Curve Number (CN). While being appropriate for engineering design in temperate climates, the CN is less than ideal when used in monsoonal regions where rainfall is concentrated into distinct time periods. The CN methodology is based on the assumption that Hortonian flow is the driving force behind surface runoff production, a questionable assumption in many regions. In monsoonal climates water balance models generally capture the runoff generation processes and thus the flux water or transport of chemicals and sediments better than CN-based models. In order to use SWAT in monsoonal climates, the CN routine to predict runoff was replaced with a simple water balance routine in the code base. To compare this new water balance-based SWAT (SWAT-WB) to the original CN-based SWAT (SWAT-CN), several watersheds in the headwaters of the Abay Blue Nile in Ethiopia were modeled at a daily time step. While long term, daily data is largely nonexistent for portions of the Abay Blue Nile, data was available for one 1,270 km2 subbasin of the Lake Tana watershed, northeast of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, which was used to initialize both versions of SWAT. Prior to any calibration of the model, daily Nash-Sutcliffe model efficiencies improved from -0.05 to 0.39 for SWAT-CN and SWAT-WB, respectively. Following calibration of SWAT-WB, daily model efficiency improved to 0.73, indicating that SWAT can accurately model saturation-excess processes without using the Curve Number technique

publication date

  • 2009