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Temporal variation in runoff and soil loss in differentially

treated catchments of NW Shiwaliks in India

S. S. Kukal*, Rajan Bhatt, S. S. Bawa

Department of Soils, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana 141004, India

Shiwalik belt is the most fragile region in the Himalayan ecosystem with average soil loss
being 80 t ha-1 year-1. The soil conservation strategies adopted in the catchments of
Shiwaliks fails to serve the purpose after a few years. A study was carried out in four
differentially-treated catchments with 15 years of runoff and soil loss measurement
history to monitor the long-term variation in soil loss and runoff and isolate the factors
affecting this variation. The treatments included fencing, planted vegetation and
engineering structures in catchment I; planted vegetation and fencing in catchment II; and
fencing alone in catchment III apart from the untreated catchment IV. A detailed gully
erosion survey was carried out in all the catchments to mark gully network up to the first-
order gullies. Soil samples collected were analyzed for soil erodibility status in each
catchment. The collected runoff and soil loss data were analyzed and its temporal
variation monitored.
The soil loss trend during the initial years of imposition of the treatment was
minimum (25.2 t ha-1) in catchment I and maximum (43.3 t ha-1) in untreated catchment
IV. Catchment II and III did not show much difference in soil loss indicating that fencing
alone was effective in developing natural vegetation. However, during the later period
(1996-03) the trend reversed i.e. catchment IV observed minimum (14.1 t ha-1) and
catchment I had maximum (23.4 t ha-1) soil loss. The runoff during the initial years was
more or less similar in catchment I, II and III. In catchment IV it was 71% higher than in
catchment I. This difference, however, decreased to 28% during the period 1996-03. The
gully erosion indices – gully density (length of total gullies per unit area) and gully
texture (number of first-order gullies per unit area) as recorded during 2004 were higher
by 20 and 27% in catchment IV, respectively than in catchment I. The soil erodibility in
the form of clay ratio during 2004 was also minimum in catchment IV.
Keywords: Soil loss; runoff; gully density; gully texture; Shiwaliks
1. Introduction
Shiwalik belt represents the most fragile region of Himalayan ecosystem and is
exposed to greater biotic pressure due to its proximity to the plains. The northwestern
Shiwaliks in India occupies an area of 2.14 m ha mainly in the states of Jammu and
Kashmir, Himachal pardesh, Punjab and Haryana (Sidhu et al., 2000). The continued
over-exploitation and mismanagement of the soil resources in the region through
deforestation, overgrazing and clearance of lands for agricultural purposes disregards to
slope and topography, has resulted in ecological degradation in Shiwalik hills. This
ecological degradation contributes immensely towards the excessive silt discharge
through surface runoff resulting in flash floods, reduced ground water recharge,
impoverishment of arable lands and overall reduction in the land productivity affecting
the socio-economic condition of the inhabitants (Kukal et al., 2002) The sparse
vegetation cover left behind after exploitation by the human beings and animals gets
completely dried up during the months of April to June due to extremely high
temperatures (up to 45-47oC) and low relative humidity. Even the forest fires are a
common feature in the region during these months. All this creates a scene for soil
erosion to take place at potentially high rates during the months of July to September,
when about 80% of the annual rainfall takes place in the form of high intensity (>50
mm/h) rainstorms. Thus more or less bare and erodible soils on steep slopes get eroded at
extremely high rates (average soil loss in the region is 80 t ha-1year-1) (Sur and Ghuman,
1994). This is reflected in the heavily dissected land in the region by a network of gullies
(Kukal and Singh, 2004) with gully texture varying from 254-768 km-2 and gully density
from 8.7-16.3 km km-2. Gully network plays an important role in the collection of the
runoff water from every nook and corner of the catchment and drains it away from the
hill slope along with the detached soil particles. Recently, the area received attention for
management of soil resources on micro-watershed basis through afforestation, fencing
and engineering structures. It is generally observed that these measures work successfully
during the initial years but later on the soil erosion goes unabated even from the treated
catchments. The present study was carried out to study the temporal variation of soil
erosion in the select catchments, treated differentially, in the region and isolate the factors
affecting this variation in runoff and soil loss.
2. Materials and methods
The study was conducted in the Ropar district of Punjab, India in the Shiwalik
belt, lying between 300 10’ to 330 37’ N latitude and 730 37’ to 770 39’ E longitude and is
415 m above mean sea level. The climate of the region varies from subtropical to
subhumid with warm summers and cold winters. Mean annual summer temperature
varies from 15 – 220C with mean summer soil temperature varying from 29 – 320C and
mean winter soil temperature varying from 8.4 – 150C. The area receives an annual
average rainfall of 1000 ± 304 mm, which is sufficient to take two crops (Prihar et al.,
1990). But it is impossible to do so because of the uncertain nature of the rainfall, as
around 80% of the total annual rain falls during a short period of three months (July –
September) with a high degree of coefficient of variation. The rainfall aggressiveness –
ratio of highest monthly rainfall to the total annual rainfall, varies from 55.9-502.4 with
an annual value of 207.8 ± 121.7 (Singh, 2000). Studies in the region (Matharu et al.,
2002) have shown that about 77% variation in annual sediment yield could be explained
due to rainfall index. It has been reported that about 35 – 55 % of the annual rain flows as
runoff. Soil moisture regimes are Ustic and Udic. Shallow soil depth, stoniness generates
rapid runoff due to low storage, low water holding capacity and low nutrient status.
Stoniness covering 25% of the area is the main problem in severely eroded area. (Sidhu et
al, 2000). Soils of the study site are generally light in textured, well drained and highly
erodible (Kukal et al., 1992).
Four catchments, varying in size from 3-16 ha and treated with combination of
different soil conservation measures, were selected. Catchment I was fenced, planted with
vegetation and engineering structures installed in the highest order gullies; catchment II
was fenced and planted with vegetation; catchment III was fenced only, whereas
catchment IV was not given any treatment (untreated). The planted vegetation included
Acacia catechu trees and Eulaliopsis binata grass. The engineering structures were
gabions and lose rock dams installed as check dams in series starting from upper to
middle and lower segments of the highest order gullies at randomly selected sites. These
structures were made from locally available stones. Runoff and silt collection devices
were installed at the outlet of each micro-watershed. The runoff was gauged with a stage
level recorder. Coshocton wheel samplers were used to sample runoff for determining silt
load. Detailed ground surveys were carried out in all the catchments so as to mark the
gullies up to the first-order. For this purpose, the catchments were divided into grids of
50 m x 50 m. Each gully line was sketched on the contour maps (at a scale of 1:1000) by
measuring the distance from pegs laid out in the grids.
Various catchment characteristics such as relief, shape indices were recorded
from the contours and base maps. The surface (0-15cm) soil samples were collected
along and composite sample prepared from 10-15 sites in each catchment. These were
analyzed for soil erodibility index - clay ratio (ratio of per cent sand + silt to per cent
clay). The soil loss and runoff data collected since 1989 till 2003 was assessed for all the
four catchments.

3. Results and discussion

3.1. Climatic variability
The runoff amount during the three months (July – September) of monsoon
season was quite variable over different years (Fig. 1). It was as low as 625 mm during
the year 2003 and as high as 1600 mm during the year 1994. The comparison with long-
term average rain in the region shows that for most of the time the rainfall remained
below-normal, particularly during the last few years (1999-2003). Mukherjee et al. (2005)
also observed that the rainfall variability showed a standard deviation of 335.4 mm and
coefficient of variation of 30.4% in the region over the last 20 years. They concluded that
the minimum temperature, accumulated pan evaporation and sunshine hours are
experiencing a decreasing trend, whereas maximum temperature and mean relative
humidity have shown a minor increase over the last 20 years. However, no definite trend
in the rainfall was observed during the last 20 years.

3.2. Soil loss

The soil loss from different catchments during the initial years responded to the
treatments (Fig 2). It remained maximum in untreated catchment (IV) till 1995-96
followed by catchment III (fenced only), catchment II (fenced + planted vegetation) and
minimum in the catchment I, which was treated with engineering structures in addition to
the planted vegetation and fencing. The fenced catchment along with planted vegetation
was not much different from the catchment III with fencing alone. Thus fencing alone
could ensure better natural vegetation to be effective in checking soil erosion. The
average soil loss during the period 1989-95 was also maximum (43.3 t ha-1) in untreated
catchment (IV), and minimum in catchment I (25.5 t ha-1) which was treated to a
maximum extent (Table 1). It is worth mentioning here that based on the shape index –
lamniscate ratio (square of the maximum length to 4 times area of the catchment),
catchment IV is least prone to soil erosion (Table 3). The catchments II (32.2 t ha -1) and
III (33.7 t ha-1) had soil loss intermediate between catchment IV and I. No significant
differences were observed between catchment II and III. Later on (1996 onwards) the
trend in soil loss from different catchments reversed. The catchment I (planted vegetation
+ fencing + structures) experienced maximum soil loss throughout (Fig. 2), whereas the
soil loss in untreated catchment IV remained lowest. The average soil loss for the period
1996-03 was maximum (23.4 t ha-1) in catchment I treated to the maximum extent (Table
1) whereas in catchment IV (untreated) it was minimum (14.1 t ha -1). Again as in 1989-
95, the soil losses in catchments II and III were in between those from catchments I and
IV and did not vary significantly between themselves. However, the magnitude of soil
loss values in all the catchments was lower during 1996-03 compared to that in 1989-95.
It could be due to below normal rainfall during the period (Fig. 1). The overall average
soil loss during the period 1989-2003 did not show much variation among various
treatments. This happened despite of the fact that catchment IV had much higher average
relief (0.33) in comparison to the catchment I (0.19) (Table 3).
The gully erosion indices – gully density (length of the total gullies per unit area)
and gully texture (number of first-order gullies per unit area) recorded during the year
2004 did not reflect the trends in soil loss during any of the time periods discussed above.
However, both these indices were higher in untreated catchment IV (19.5 km km -2 and
1802 gullies km-2, respectively) than in catchment I (16.2 km km -2 and 1414.7 gullies km–
, respectively). The engineering structures installed in catchment I were silted up
completely on the upslope side (Plate 1) and presently the runoff water was flowing over
these structures. This may explain the reason for reversing of the soil erosion trends after
1995. Initially the engineering structures installed in catchment I intercepted runoff water
and filtered the sediments resulting in lower soil loss from catchment I than from
catchment IV. Later on (1996-03), these structures got silted up completely and could no
longer intercept the runoff and filter the sediments. Rather the erosivity of the running
water increased as the runoff water was now falling from the crest height of these
structures. This was reflected by the creation of the deep depressions at the down slope
end of the structures. With the result the siltation rate of catchment I became higher than
in catchment IV where runoff flowed smoothly in the absence of any structures.
Interestingly, the soil loss in catchment IV was even lower than the treated catchments II
and III. It could be due the fact that catchment IV having smallest area might have
experienced more or less complete erosion of the top more erodible soil with the result
that less erodible soil was exposed as measured during 2004 (Table 3).

3.3. Runoff
The runoff over the period 1989-2003 remained maximum throughout in the untreated
catchment IV, compared to that in the treated catchments (I, II and III) (Fig. 2). It did not
vary much among the treated catchments throughout except that the fenced catchment
had minimum runoff during 1994-03. The average runoff (1989-03) was maximum
(28.7%) in catchment IV (Table 1). In catchment I (planted vegetation + fencing +
engineering structures), it was still higher than catchment II (planted vegetation +
fencing) and catchment III (fencing alone). This shows that the engineering structures
were not effective in checking the flow of water. Even the planted vegetation did not help
in reducing runoff over fencing. Thus fencing proved to be effective in increasing the
natural vegetation status of the catchment. The runoff during the period 1989-95 did not
vary among the catchments I, II and III. However, in catchment IV (untreated) it was
71% higher in than in the catchment I. Later on (1996-03), this difference of runoff
between catchment I and cathcment IV narrowed down to 28%. This again indicates that
during the later part (1996-03) of observations, the structures did not help in checking
runoff any further, thereby decreasing the gap between runoff in catchments I and IV
after 1995. The higher runoff in untreated catchment IV could be due to the higher gully
density (19.5 km km-2) and gully texture (1802 km-2) compared to lower values (16.2 km
km-2 and 141.7 km-2) in catchment I recorded during the year 2004 or it may be true
otherwise i.e. higher soil erosion recorded in catchment IV might have increased the
severity of gully erosion (Table 2). The number and length of first-order gullies recorded
to be higher in catchment I (82 and 76.5%0 than that in catchment IV (67 and 64%). The
first-order gullies are newly formed gullies and the main runoff collecting channels in a
catchment and constitute fundamental energy cells of the drainage system (Strahler,

3.4. Conclusions
The long-term information on runoff and soil loss in differentially treated
catchments showed that the planted vegetation in Shiwaliks was not so effective vis-à-vis
fencing, which has the potential to generate the natural vegetation. The engineering
structures were effective only during the initial years of their installation. Later on, these
were responsible for increased soil erosion. These structures being installed in the highest
ordered gullies were silted up within 3-4 years due to unabated runoff and soil in the
gully network. It resulted in increased erosivity of the runoff, which might even be
responsible for the mass movement of soil in the catchment irrespective of the vegetation
status. Thus it is important to have a detailed knowledge of distribution of different
ordered gullies before formulating the soil conservation strategy in the region.

The authors acknowledge the financial support provided by Department of Science and
Technology, Government of India, New Delhi to carry out this study.

Kukal, S.S., Bhoop-Singh, 2004. Mapping gully erosion patterns in foothills of lower
Shiwaliks. In: Proc. Map India 2004, 175, 1-5.

Kukal, S.S., Sur, H.S., Gill, S.S., 1991. Factors responsible for soil erosion hazard in
submontane Punjab, India. Soil Use Magmt. 7, 38-44.

Kukal, S.S., Singh, J., Bawa, S.S., Khera, K.L., 2002. Evaluation of gully control
measures in foothills of lower Shiwaliks – A Compendium, Department of Soils,
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

Matharu, G.S., Kukal, S.S., 2002. Catchment characteristics in relation to soil erosion
hazard in submontane Punjab, India. International J. Agri. Biol. 4, 93-94.

Mukherjee, J., Bal, S.K., Bhalla, S.S. 2005. Temporal climatic variation in submontane
region of Punjab. Indian J. Ecol. 32, 36-38.

Prihar, S.S., Khepar, S.D., Singh, R., Garewal, S.S., Sondhi, S.K., 1990. Water resources
of Punjab – a critical concern for future of its agriculture. Bulletin, Punjab
Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

Sidhu, G.S., Walia, C.S., Sachdev, C.B., Rana, K.P.C., Dhankar, R.P., Singh, S.P.,
Velaythum, M., 2000. Soil resource of N-W Shiwaliks for perspective land use
planning. In: Fifty Years of Research on Sustainable Resource Management in
Shivaliks (eds. S.P. Mittal, R.K. Aggarwal, J.S. Samra). Pp. 23-34.

Singh, G., 2000. Behaviour and patterns of gully erosion in submontane Punjab. M.Sc.
Thesis, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

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networks. In: Handbook of Applied Hydrology (V.T. Chow ed.) pp. 439-476.

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alluvial soils under medium rainfall. Bull. Indian Soc. Soil Sci. 16, 56-65.
Table 1
Soil loss and runoff in differentially treated catchments during different time periods
Catchment Soil loss, t ha-1 Runoff, %
------------------------------------ --------------------------
1989-03 1989-95 1996-03 1989-03 1989-95 1996-
I 24.3 25.2 23.4 18.9 20.7 17.1
II 25.1 32.3 18.0 17.8 21.9 13.5
III 25.3 33.7 16.8 15.4 22.0 8.4
IV 28.7 43.3 14.1 28.7 35.5 21.9
Catchment I – planted vegetation, fencing and engineering structures; catchment II – planted vegetation and
fencing; catchment III – fencing alone and catchment IV - untreated
Table 2
Extent of gully erosion in the differentially-treated catchments during 2004
Catchment Gully texture Gully density 1st order gullies, %
(No. km-2) (km km-2) Length-wise Number-wise
I 1414.7 16.2 76.5 81.9
II 2053.8 14.3 83.0 81.6
III 1530.0 23.4 63.3 76.8
IV 1802.0 19.5 63.5 67.4
Catchment I – planted vegetation, fencing and engineering structures; catchment II – planted vegetation and
fencing; catchment III – fencing alone and catchment IV - untreated
Table 3
Characteristics and soil erodibility of different catchments
Catchment Area Average relief Clay ratio* Lamniscate
(ha) ratio
I 15.6 0.19 24.0 0.522
II 12.3 0.11 23.4 0.639
III 13.8 0.19 23.7 0.548
IV 3.0 0.33 3.5 0.861
Catchment I – planted vegetation, fencing and engineering structures; catchment II – planted vegetation and
fencing; catchment III – fencing alone and catchment IV - untreated
* recorded during the year 2004