A Critical Water Management Situation

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Ruaha River Fact File 1970 onwards

Ruaha River
The river as it should be -  Wet Season 1996

Ruaha River
December 2005


The Great Ruaha River, formally a perennial river, which rises in the hills of the Usangu catchment ceased to flow for the first time in living memory during the dry season of 1993 and this drying-up has continued every year since, with the period of non-flow increasing to several months. As the Great Ruaha River is the life blood of the Ruaha National Park we have witnessed an environmental disaster of monumental proportions unfold over the last 10+ years.

In the years immediately prior to (latter half of the 1980s) and coincident with the continuing drying up of the Great Ruaha River various programmes of so-called "improvement" of smallholder irrigated rice schemes were undertaken in the Usangu catchment. In addition, two new large scale schemes were constructed - Kapunga (1988-1992) and, inexplicably in view of the problems already in evidence, Madibira in 1998.

The amount of water entering the catchment area has not changed to any significant degree. Local people find it incomprehensible that, what to them was an obvious correlation between the building of the "improved" rice irrigation schemes and the Ruaha River ceasing to flow was not immediately recognised and measures taken at an early stage to test the hypothesis and address the problem. Delay in positive "on the ground" action has served only to exacerbate the problem and make it's resolution more difficult as huge numbers of migrant people associated with rice farming and cattle herding have come into the area.

Ruaha RiverI, and others have been campaigning for years to save this unique ecosystem from total destruction, not only because of its international status of enormous environmental importance and bio-diversity (rapidly degrading) but also for it's huge economic importance to Tanzania.

There has been extensive research (much of it funded by the UK government) into the reasons for the drying up of the Ruaha River, numerous papers written and many workshops conducted into the cause(s) of this state of affairs; but, so far, there has been little implementation of any practical measures 'on the ground' to stop the haemorrhaging of water and aid the restoration of the Ruaha River to it's original status as a 'great' and perennial river. However, RBWO Rufiji-river Basin Water Office) have commenced some practical measures on the Ndembera River near Madibira, , and the RIPARWIN research body are also on the brink of introducing some new practical ways of measuring water flow and off-takes more accurately.

Ruaha RiverIn March 2001, whilst in London at the Rio+10 preparatory meeting the Prime Minister of Tz., Mr. Sumaye, together with the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, committed Tanzania to restoring year round flows in the Great Ruaha River by 2010. However,five years on and the river, and thus the entire ecosystem, is in an even more critical state.


1. Sustainable Management of Usangu Wetlands & it's Catchment (SMUWC), now ended, funded by DFID (formally ODA) UK.

2. Raising Irrigation Productivity and Releasing Water for Intersectional Needs (RIPARWIN) also funded by DFID and is based on the work done by SMUWC. While SMUWC studied aspects of natural resource use in Usangu, RIPARWIN is looking more closely at water management, specifically irrigation efficiency.

The extensive research carried out by SMUWC and now by RIPARWIN has identified the problems which led to the drying up of the Great Ruaha River, and the most cost effective approaches in tackling them. The issue is now to translate these ideas into ACTION so that we restore a permanent flow to the Great Ruaha River and its environmental dependants, and provide meaning to the effort that has gone into understanding the problems.

Ruaha RiverThe research found:

1. That there is an undisputed correlation between the so-called "improved" rice irrigation farming and the drying up of the Great Ruaha River.

2. That the so-called "improvement/modernisation" of indigenous traditional smallholder small-holder schemes does not necessarily result in improved water control, greater equity, reduced water user conflict and higher performance. Indeed such programmes may aggravate these and have a negative impact and may result in more problems than they have solved.

3. That by following the research recommendations and preventing an expansion in water abstraction from the catchment during the wet season and the unnecessary abstraction of water during the dry season, it is possible to restore dry season river flow with little impact on rice production.


The dry season of 2003 was the most desperate, even elephant could not find water below the dry surface of the Ruaha River bed (as they do below sand rivers in the dry seasons) indicating the extent to which the entire water table has fallen. Scores of hippo, forced to mass together in muddy pools, died - this is not what tourists want to witness! The distribution of some of the mammals has changed markedly as a result of their search for water, leading them into conflicts with the villagers around the Park.


On the 29th October 2005 the 'Great' Ruaha River ceased to flow at the Jongomero end of the Park (western end).

It began flowing last year on the 4th December 2004, having stopped on the 2nd November 2004. This makes a record total for 2004 (for recent times) of only 31 days dry.

Therefore, according to my records, (1994-2005) for the years of 2004 and 2005 the river has flowed for approximately 5-6 weeks longer than in previous years.

It is my belief that the valuable work that the RBWO (Rufiji-river Basiin Water Office) doing along the Ndembera river has contributed greatly to this increased flow.

The work that they are doing, is simple but effective. They are making sure that from June - Oct all irrigation gates off that river are closed, so that the water may continue down to the Usangu Swamp. However, this is only one of the rivers entering the Basin.

Therefore, I believe, that if this simple operation was replicated on the other major rivers entering the swamp this would be an excellent way to at least start combating the problem of flow during the dry season.

I would like to congratulate the RBWO office for their work.

-Sue Stolberger

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(The authority on research for the Great Ruaha River problem)

RIPAWIN have given invaluable insight to the problem via their extensive research.

They say:-

Our understanding is that most actions are now with the RBWO. They, in support with WWF, are deploying policies that engage with upstream farmers constructively and are having an effect on downstream releases. They are also getting good support from FAO, and we are very impressed with RBWO's efforts given the constraints they face.

Our project is very much in its final stages - dealing with uptake and dissemination of key ideas. Our project is trying to get the key players in Dar to think about revising intakes which will make it easier to release more water downstream, as well as resolve conflicts between them. We've already opened the debate on this, and are having a follow up meeting.

The other thing is to get the river basin game taken up formally as a means of ensuring that river users realize how to share water, and save water and release water. This game goes alongside the intake revision ideas. There is now good interest this tool, and we are demo-ing the game to the two key ministries at each opportunity.

Our team is also about to deliver the Ruaha Basin Decision Aid (RUBDA) which will support the RBWO in taking decisions about water rights, so that they can address the balance between upstream and environmental needs. This training is in December, and is a follow up to initial training held in September.

We have also submitted documents to the RBWO that specify how the river may be kept flowing year round, including the amounts of water needed below the intakes to ensure dry season flow. This is about 5-7 cumces.

We have also been working quite closely with the Ministry of Agriculture so that they revise their irrigation efficiency. We believe it
is important to realize that smallholders are generally efficient, but are facing structural constraints that make it difficult for them to change their activities, but lining canals are not related to these types of problems and will not resolve water losses.

We have also generated several other small documents that pose various questions about water management, and allocation of water between different sectors.

They also say:-

It is interesting that the concept 'that Usangu irrigation is inefficient so that improving irrigation management can help fill the hydropower dams' (not a quote but an interpretation) remains so resilient - this was the rationale for the RBMSIIP project.

The SMUWC project and the RIPARWIN project has long argued that the major water waste in irrigation occurs during the dry season and that these savings are probably only enough to provide extra water during the dry season to keep the wetland topped up and therefore to give some hope to the notion of returning the Ruaha to year-round flow. It is not helpful to argue that the tradeoff exists between irrigation waste and hydropower, though one can argue that a balance exists between irrigation and hydropower - BUT - even that has to be qualified because of the fact that Mtera/Kidatu receive their flows from many other rivers, and that the proportion of water depleted by irrigation is probably in the region of 15 to 35% - and that the manageable and useable waste part of this is an even smaller fraction. It has long been established that the power cuts from Mtera/Kidatu are a result of excessive and relatively inefficient water releases, due in part to a divergence between technical and political objectives for power management.

Much more work can be done in terms of the trade-off between irrigation and the environment, not in terms of large quantitative water releases but in getting this highly valuable dry season water better managed between sectors. I believe that this can be done via better water management. In turn, the question - "how to do this?" remains key.

We need a discussion on this and RIPARWIN has been holding meetings on this with various stakeholders. The idea that lining canals underpins improved water efficiency is far-fetched, and yet this remains common theory within the irrigation profession and can be found frequently mentioned in the literature related to irrigation efficiency in East Africa. Likewise, I keep coming across the notion that 'farmers need training on irrigation management', when in reality they are year-round highly-experienced experimenters and observers of irrigation. A better approach would be help them frame their experience so that they can solve their issues between them, and take more major priorities to service-oriented authorities. This is the big difference between conventional 'farmer training' and the river basin game, a problem-framing tool that the RIPARWIN project designed.

With my 21 years experience in irrigation, I would not have 'found' the RBMSIIP link/rationale between efficiency and high-volume downstream releases because that is not how I conceive of, or measure, irrigation efficiency.

In the final few months of RIPARWIN, I hope that we are able to disseminate our message of what irrigation efficiency consists of, and how best to improve it, and that related to this, some key organisations are able to hear us.

Bruce Lankford

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The following in reply to the above sums up the situation very well:


I agree with you that irrigation has no or only a very slight impact on the filling of the Mtera reservoir (the SMUWC project demonstrated this). The low water level in the reservoir is a combination of reduced rainfall and overdraft for electricity production (reduced rainfall is occurring as well in other parts of East Africa during the last few years).

When the World Bank started the RBMSIIP project: (i) in the beginning we did not have an idea of the project losses and impacts. It was a black box; (ii) when the SMUWC project demonstrated that irrigation doesn't have an impact on hydropower, but did have an impact on the environment, the implications were quickly adopted (e.g., no construction of weirs that enable schemes full dry season abstraction) and closure of irrigation schemes during the dry season to be enforced by the Rufiji Basin Water Office.

Irrigation has a clear impact on the downstream environment (Usangu wetlands), and especially the impact during the dry season on the flow of the Great Ruaha River is significant. Closure of the irrigation systems during the dry season and the use of groundwater for vegetable farming and drinking water would greatly improve the situation in river and likely restore the flow. The water right from the river during the dry season should be zero. These actions need to be further detailed and enforced. Also the need to rehabilitate
existing irrigation schemes and improve water management during the wet season and increase incomes for farmers is clearly a priority.

Robert Robelus

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Ruaha River December 20th 2005

Though we did enjoy an extended 5 weeks of flow this year, as I look outside the door of my tent right now the so called 'Great Ruaha River" is no more than a very hot, dry rock bed with a few scummy pools. The animals are drifting about aimlessly in search of water. The remaining pools are covered in green scum, the smell of putrid water is everywhere. The rain is late so there are still some weeks to go before we can hope for 'a river'.

Ruaha river 16th January 2006

Ruaha and indeed much of southern Tanzania has been suffering a drought the rain is very late. However, thankfully on the evening of the 11th Jan 2006 after wide spread, heavy rain along the Ruaha River the river flowed.

Ruaha River
16th January 2006

Ruaha River
Actual flow: 16th January 2006

This 'flow' continues, however it is a small ribbon of water approximately 4ft wide, which is similar to the 'flow' a couple of weeks prior to the river drying up.

The river has been dry this season (2005-2006) for a total of 75 days as opposed to last years (2004-2005) all time record of being dry for only 30 days.

The rain continues but only in light showers here and there. It is possible that the river will dry up again soon.

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Ruaha River 9 March 2006

Since the early hours of the morning, there has been extensive rain to the west of us (Jongomero end of the park). It looked as though Usangu was getting this heavy rain too.

Now at almost 1.00pm there is a"big' river going by, the largest flood this year so far, it has come up some 4 ft and is still rising. The water coming by here is not just form the Jongomero but from from further west ,I hope the Usangu area. I feel sure that some of this water will reach Mtera.

Ruaha River 27 March 2006

Last night we had heavy rain, though only 34mm recorded here most of yesterday was grey and stormy, particularly further west of us here at Jongomero.

The Ruaha River is now up about 4ft and is slightly higher than it was on my last update 9th March 06. According to observers on the Lunda section of the river, some +140km from us here, the river rose approximately 2ft after the flood I recorded to you all on the 9th.

The river dropped to its new 2006, low level of constant flow, after a couple of days after the 9th and remained at this level till today.

The rainfall has improved these past weeks.

Ruaha River 31 March 2006

Since the 4ft flood on the 27th March 06 the river slowly dropped a little more than 2 feet. Then yesterday 30th March 06, around mid-day, I noticed a small change in the rivers flow. It began to rise a little, very slowly, and now today 31st I believe that we finally have some water coming in from the Ihefu swamp.

The flow is of a different nature to a 'flash flood' and the colour of the water is now not a muddy brown, carrying silt but a light 'tea' coloured water that has very little silt suspended in it. This hopefully means that the river will continue to flow at this level and maybe more...though it is still lower than it was last year 05.

As an indication to the depth of the river I make the following observation:-

I have just watched 6 giraffe wade casually across the river, the general level of the water is no deeper than up to their knees. ( in places it is more but only for a few steps) It poses no threat for them. In contrast to this from 1994 to about 2000, no animal, save the elephant, would risk crossing the river in February or March (or January, depending on the rain) The flow of water was such that it was usually difficult for the elephants to cross easily, and
often times they would walk along the bottom with their trunks up acting like a snorkle, the little babies would hang onto their mothers tail and float along.

I think this gives some visual indication that there has been a serious decline in the wet season flow, which cannot be attributed to low rainfall alone.

Best wishes Sue

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Ruaha River 5 August, 2006

The river is low, and comparing the photos taken this time last year it is obvious that the level of the river today, 5th August 2006, is similar to how it looked around the beginning of September 2005.

So suffice to say we are approximately one month drier/lower than last year.

The second thing is, my comments made last year in support of the good work the RBWO office is doing that their efforts on the Ndembera

are making a difference, seems to have been misconstrued by some. So I take this opportunity in clarifying the matter:- I am not saying the Ruaha River situation is restored or improving.

What I am saying is that the simple and very good task of ensuring that the irrigation gates along this river are closed from June to end October has increased the length of time that the trickle of water that "flows" in the Ruaha River during the dry season by about 6 weeks.

Before, this operation was started the river would simply get lower and lower by the day and then stop. Now it gets lower and lower by the day but once it reaches its lowest 'trickle' level it manages to maintain this low flow for about an extra 6 weeks before drying up mid October. Therefore, my point is, that if this simple task was replicated along all the other rivers that flow into the Ihefu, I believe that the trickle we see in the dry season would be substantially improved.

The wet season flow however, is another, much more alarming story, this gets lower and lower each year, which is not due to lack of rainfall but from massive over use by irrigation.

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Ruaha River 22 March, 2006

Ruaha has received almost double its normal average in rainfall with almost 900mm so far (with still more to come). We normally get around 500mm per annum.

All springs and water catchment areas within the park ar full and busting over, so this is a most welcome turn of events for the park.

March 22nd 2007   March 22nd 2007
March 22nd 2007

These pictures were taken from my 'old' camp (I have recently moved from this location near the river). The river rose way over this level for the duration of mid January to mid February. The river now flows at the level shown in the photos.

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Ruaha River April 2007

As you know Tanzania received very heavy rains this season. Which of course is fantastic news. Mtera Dam went from its lowest level ever, to over-flowing in a matter of a few weeks only!

These pictures of the river in April 07, when compared to the ones taken a month earlier, (March 07, see above) show that, despite the good rainfall the river is dropping fast. This indicates that there is a massive off-take of water going on up stream from RNP.

23rd April 2007

23rd April 2007

We hope that this constant drop in flow level will ease off soon.

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Ruaha River January 2008

I was  enormously disappointed to see the depressing state of the Ruaha River. These pictures were  taken on  12th January 2008 at the same location in Ruaha National Park as  all my previous records spanning the past 14 years.

12th January 2008

 12th January 2008

The water you see in the river is all from local flooding of the Jongomero River and the Itiku.  There has been NO water coming in from Usangu at all.
On the 14th  of January I travelled to Usangu and Mbeya to see that the rice paddies are all fully flooded, all rivers flowing into the catchment  area were full  and flowing very well, some of them were very high. Mbeya has apparently received its highest rainfall on record for the past 8 years. So my question  is :-WHY  IS THERE NO WATER REACHING RUAHA PARK? The  answer is quite simple the wet-season  off take is far too great.
There is no need for irrigation to stop but there is a need for the irrigation system over the whole area  to be properly planned. When will  we see this action  taking place?  It is not an impossible task but it will require hands on expertise and law enforcement.  If we all pull together we will succeed.
If we are not careful the Great Ruaha River will stop  flowing altogether.

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Ruaha River April 17, 2008

The Ruaha River is looking great, a huge improvement since my update in January 08.

After a bad start with obvious massive off-takes in the catchment area, rains have been exceptionally good this year, so the river in Ruaha Park is looking wonderful.

26th March 2008

26th March 2008

26th March 2008

However, please note the stone which is just visible. I have always used this as the level 'marker'. It is about a foot out of the water. Ideally this marker should not be showing. In the early 1990's this rock was always covered from January through to the end of April.

The other important and very excting news is that the Government has been working hard to try to protect this important water source, and as a result the Ruaha National Park has been extended to include the Usangu Wetland, which will hopefully help to keep Ruaha 'flowing' throughout the dry season. The extension has been approved by Parliament however, we are still waiting for the President to sign the documents.

We are thrilled by this very positive move towards conserving a very important National resource.

I have also included a scenic view of the river near Msembe, HQ. (see below) I am sure you will all agree that Ruaha is looking magnificent.

Great Ruaha River near Msembe, 26th March 2008

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Ruaha River April 22, 2008

I am delighted to be able to tell you that the Ruaha Park has now been officially extended to include the Usangu Game Reserve plus additional land to the south and west. Ruaha is now the largest park in Africa, covering an area of over 22,000sq.Km.

In recent years the Ruaha River has been drying up during the dry season due to massive off-takes for irrigation purposes.

Usangu Wetland in July 2007

As you may know, the catchment area for the Great Ruaha River is in the Usangu Plains, which is an extremely
important water resource for Tanzania. It feeds the hydro dams of Mtera and Kidatu, plus being the focal point of Ruaha Park and supporting many lives along its course to the Rufiji Delta. The Tanzanian Government has to be congratulated for taking these difficult, but important steps in conserving its precious water reserves.

However, this is only part of the problem, it is now more important than ever to implement effective measures in curbing the massive over-use of water which has seriously depleted the Ruahas flow during the wet season and which completely destroys the river during the dry season.

I understand that there are plans in place to address this problem. I wish the Government and the Stakeholders every success in this important issue.

Best wishes Sue

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Great Ruaha River June 2008:

As you can see the river has dropped dramatically in the past 2 months.  I estimate it to have dropped by about 5 feet.  The depth at the deepest points in this section of the river  on the 12th June, would be no more than 2 and a half to three feet deep. If you look at the final picture (F), though it looks like a lovely river right across,  it is deceptive,  you can see the colour of the  sand showing through, indicating the river is generally very shallow. About 6 inches in most places.

A 1st June 2008

Ab 6th June 2008

B 12 June 2008

C 1st June 2008

D 6th June 2008

E 12th June 2008

F 12th June 2008

Please also compare carefully the 6 pictures, 2 of them were taken on the 1st of June (A,C), 2 on the 6th June (Ab,D)  and the other 2 were taken on the 12th of June(B,E).   You can see that in 12 short days the river has dropped by about 6 inches.

This means that more and more water is being channeled off daily for irrigation purposes.

Kind regards Sue

RUAHA RIVER Sept 19, 2008

September 2008

September 2008

September 2008

I am happy to say that for this time of year the flow is looking better than usual.  The river is still flowing past the gate some 40km down stream of these photos.

Let us hope that it continues to flow  for another few months at this level. Traditionally it is about this time of year that the river drops drastically and stops flowing by the 1st of october.  We shall see!

Kind regards Sue

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RUAHA RIVER Feb-April 2009

Hello everyone,

This update on the Ruaha River is long over due, but I have been away.

As many of you know the Ruaha River was in a drastic state,it was completely dry from OCTOBER 2008 right through to mid MARCH 2009. That is five and a half months which is the longest dry period ever recorded.

It is true that generally, the rain in the immediate Ruaha park catchment was extremely poor over much of the season. As a result many
of the small rivers such as the Jongomero,Itiku, Mdonya,etc only flooded for very short periods, the water never reaching the Ruaha River.

Thus, the Ruaha River remained completely dry until Mid March. At which point the rainfall in Ruaha Park catchment improved a little giving the sand rivers enough to flood. thus the Ruaha was 'flowing' in short sections for only a few days at a time.

Finally the 'black water' from Usangu (Ihefu water) arrived towards the end of March. Giving the river new life.

I would like to remind you that in the catchment proper,eg the rivers flowing into the Usangu Basin, Mbarali, Ndembera, etc all of these
rivers and their upper catchment areas had extremely GOOD rainfall, which was way ABOVE average.

These rivers were all flooding from Mid November right through to April. That means that four and a half months of flood water from seven
rivers have largely been used by agriculture in the Usangu basin.

Only in the final (5th) month of the rains did this massive amount of water make its way down through the Giriama gap to the Ruaha Park to the Mtera dam.

In normal years the flood water from Usangu reaches Ruaha Park in February. (assuming that the rains start in mid December), Therefore, please note that, as the rivers have been flooding since November the water from Usangu should have reached Ruaha Park in Mid January this
year. But it didn't reach us until the END of MARCH.

23.02.09 upstream from river lodge
23.02.2009 Upstream from River Lodge

23.02.09 downstream from river lodge
23.02.2009 Downstream from river Lodge

Here are photos taken from various locations in February 2009 and a photo taken by Andrew Molinaro, (Jongomero Camp) a few days ago
on April 13th 2009.

13.04.2009 downstream from sue's camp
13.04.2009 Downstream from Sue's Camp

The river is now flowing bank to bank. The location this photo was taken is from Robs old camp. I know from experience that according to
what I see in the photo, the river must be reasonably high probably covering the stone marker used at my camp. But judging from the colour
of the water it is not very deep so I doubt it will last at this height for very much longer. I will guess it will start to go down by the
beginning of May.

I think we are all aware that the situation of the Ruaha River is now critical. It is of National importance that we take measures to ensure
that the water from this life giving river sustains all its stakeholders, including, the Ruaha Park, Mtera Dam, the fishermen there
and on down to the Rufiji basin developments. It is very possible to have great agriculture in Usangu and still have the river flowing down to the
sea. All it will take is positive cooperation form all parties concerned.

Thank you all for your hard work to make this become a reality.

Kind regards


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Ruaha River June-August 2009

The river is not looking too bad for this time of year, however, as per usual, it has dropped significantly over a short period of time.

Ruaha River 10th June 2009 
10th June 2009

Ruaha River 01st July 2009
1st July 2009

Ruaha River 13th July 2009
13th July 2009

You can see how fast the river dropped from 10th June to 13th July, over a 5 week period. Just to remind you, the stone marker that I use is approximately 7 feet high from its base on the sand to the top of the rock.

I suspect we will see the same trend as last year, in that the river will continue to drop fairly fast until it reaches a shallow trickle and
will stop altogether at the beginning of October when the rice growers start planting their seedlings.

This year, Ruaha Park received very poor rainfall, as a result the springs in the sand-rivers, and surrounding areas are mostly dry
already. Therefore, the animals will face a big problem later on in the season. In fact, over the past few years due to the drying of the river, game viewing has really deteriorated from the end of September through to December. Previously, when the river was in better shape, these dry months were Ruahas' prime game viewing months.

Ruaha River 6th Aug 2009
6th August 2009

Although the actual level does not look so dramatically different you can see that the surrounding water in the channels in the foreground
and near the banks has dried up alot. Further down stream where the river widens it is very obvious that the river has dried up quite
significantly in the past 4 weeks.

Kind regards, Sue

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Great Ruaha River still flowing October 2009

We are all thrilled to tell you that not only is the river still flowing up at Jongomero, but there is still a trickle of water reaching the Lunda end of the park. We have not had water down to Lunda in October for 14 years. This is an historic year! The photos below show how the river looks at the moment.

water level near Jongomero

The water flowing under the bridge as of the 20th October 2009

Ruaha water level

The water up at my old camp , (in the Jongomero area) some 50km up stream from the gate.
20th october 2009:- Flowing portion on left of rock .

Ruaha water level

Close up of flowing portion

Although the flow is not a torrent it is certainly what we have all been working towards. This indicates that preserving the wetland from thousands of cattle, and shifting some of the small scale farmers a marked difference has been achieved.

I find this incredibly encouraging. Considering that Ruaha Park received very poor rainfall this year, and that water off-take continues on a massive scale due to irrigation in the catchment area, it proves that it doesn’t take very much to improve the situation. Therefore, with more effort directed to proper management of these precious water reserves, the objective of ensuring that the flow of the GRR reaches the Mtera Dam will be realized. This would be a remarkable achievement for Tanzania.

I also attach photos of the river in August and September 2009. The depth and width of flow in the Lunda area was really encouraging. I do hope that this progress continues, ensuring water for future generations is ensuring a future for Tanzania. I would like to congratulate Ruaha National Park for its efforts, protecting the Usangu Wetland has not been an easy situation to administer.

Great Ruaha River December 2009

Great Ruaha River Dec 2009

Great Ruaha river flowing in December 2009

Due to early rains the river was flowing well at the beginning of November. The Jongomero River had several good floods which cleaned out the old pools and assisted the GRR to flow well past Msembe HQ and on down to Lunda. This was fantastic news for normally November is when the GRR is completely dry.

However, since the 21st of November the rain has stopped. But the good news is the river is still flowing past Msembe HQ, and attached is a photo of the river as it flows under the bridge on December the 5th. You will see there are two channels flowing now. The photo I sent in October depicted only one channel flowing under the bridge, therefore, despite the rain stopping, the river has improved slightly since October. To date the GRR has not stopped flowing this dry season. Let us hope the rain returns soon.

Great Ruaha River February 2010

The river is looking really good, as you can see the water is ‘black’ which means the water from Usangu is flowing though already. According to Park Authorities the Usangu water started on the 24th January 2010. This is much earlier than usual, ‘normally’ it most often reached Ruaha the end of Feb to early March. The water in the river is usually at its highest mid March so we will wait and see what happens this year.

From Sue's old camp  Wider view of the river

The stone marker in photo 1. indicates that the river still has a way to go before the stone is covered, which is the ‘normal’ highest flow we hope to expect each year.

From Bridge  From Bridge

The photos 3 and 4 from the gate show you that the river is flowing very well so far.

I will be most interested to see what happens during this dry season in 2010. Last year 2009 was historic in that the river through most of Ruaha park never dried up so....what can we hope for this year?!

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Great Ruaha River July 31st 2010

The Ruaha River  for 31st July 2010, is continuing to flow fairly well, though it is dropping fast.

In the pictures below, the first one  depicts  the river from my old camp on the 30th July 2010 and then the same place on the 5th August last year 2009.   This is only 5 days later than those taken this year but you can clearly see that the river was substantially higher this time last year than it is now. If you compare the small rock in  the water in front of the stone marker you will se that in the August 2009 photo it is barely visible. 

The final photo was taken on the 31st July 2010  and depicts the width of the flow past Msembe  Bandas at HQ. It is  pretty shallow here, 30 cm deep for much of the width though the main flow channel is more than 60cm deep.

It can be seem from these photos that the river was flowing better this time last year.  In fact I have just been examining the photos taken June 28th this year and they are not dissimilar from those taken in August last year, so I would say the river is approximately one month drier this year, so we will have to see if the flow continues through out the dry season as it did last year, at this present time it seems unlikely.


Kind regards Sue

Please note my new email address sue@ruaha.com

Camp July 2010

A GRR my camp July 30 2010 

Camp July 2010

B GRR my camp July 30 2010 

Camp Aug 2009

C  GRR My camp 5th August 2009

Camp Aug 2009

D  GRR My camp 5th August 2009

Msembe July 31st 2010
Msembe July 30th 2010

Sue Stolberger

Great Ruaha River September 2010

The general flow of the Ruaha River through the western portion of the park (from Jongomero to the  bridge (old Gate)  is not too bad.

Last year it was quite a bit stronger, however,  going by the past history of flow  for this time of year it is about average to just above average.

The photos below were taken from the Bridge (old gate) on the 2nd September 2010.  The actual flow is now reduced to the single channel depicted, however it is still strong and relatively deep.

Kind regards, Sue

Ruaha River Sept 2nd 2010
Actual flow of Ruaha River at the bridge Sept 2nd 2010 

Ruaha River Sept 2nd 2010

Ruaha River at the bridge Sept 2nd 2010 


The Ruaha river has stopped flowing.

The pictures below depict the river at my old camp which was just flowing on the first with a trickle of about 16 cm deep and 80 cm wide.

GRR Oct 1st 2010 old camp -actual width of flow only about 16cm deep.
GRR Oct 1st 2010 old camp - actual width of flow only about 16cm deep.

GRR Oct 1st 2010 old camp -actual width of flow only about 16cm deep.
GRR Oct 1st 2010 old camp -actual width of flow only about 16cm deep.

Ruaha River
GRR Oct 2nd 2010 bridge - where the 2 tiny trickles join the deeper channel are just visible.

The flow here was miniscule, coming in from two tiny channels on either side of the deeper channel

GRR Oct 2nd 2010 bridge - showing the 2 tiny trickles flowing into the deeper channel
GRR Oct 2nd 2010 bridge - showing the 2 tiny trickles flowing into the deeper channel

The river was just flowing at the bridge on the 1st October (if you look at the last 2 photos you will see this). But by the 3rd it has stopped at the bridge.

It is still just flowing at my old camp in the Jongomero area. but this will last only a few more days.

The marabou storks are feasting on the dying fish, that are now floating in many of the pools along the river making the water very unpalatable for the animals and aquatic life.

If you look back through my observations you will see that october the 1st is the 'traditional' date for the drying of the GRR. This is due to the fact that the rice growers up stream are beginning to flood their paddies in readiness for the rice seedlings. It has long ben my question as to why rice growers cannot defer their starting date to Dec 1st when the rain is more imminent.

Last year we had a major break through in that the river flowed all year without stopping, it was an historic occasion. I have heard some say this is due to good rainfall. However, one needs only to look through rainfall records to see that this is not so. I also heard a rumor that 2009 was not the only year that the river continued to flow, but this is 100% incorrect. I lived about 1 meter away from the GRR from 1994 till 2006 and during that time, (and until 2009), the river died up every single year.
The reason last year was so successful in terms of flow, was because sincere efforts were made to ensure correct usage of water in the irrigated areas up stream of the Ruaha Park were enforced.

We know now, that through proper management we can enjoy year round flow of the GRR through Ruaha Park, It is important to note that this is at NO detriment to the farmers up stream.

By sound management policies it is possible to keep all stakeholders happy.

Let us continue to strive for this

Sue Stolberger


Ruaha River Water Level November 2010

The Ruaha River is a disaster! 

What has happened to all that progress we made last year?

The state of the Ruaha River is shocking.  It is the driest it has been since we had a drought in 2004/2005.  The river looked like this in Januaray 2005 after the rains failed in December 2004.

Why is it looking like this at the end of November? It can only mean that the off take up stream has increased, and that little or no management  of quotas have been observed.

This is extremely disappointing.  Please can we all work together to improve this alarming state of affairs. 

 It is so easy to make things work for the benefit of the whole if we all pull our weight.

Ruaha River

GRR Nov 2010 -  from my old camp 1


Ruaha River
GRR Nov 2010 - from my old camp


Ruaha River
GRR Nov 2010 - from my old camp


Ruaha River Water Level April 2011

Ruaha River

Ruaha River

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Ruaha River Water Level April 18 2011

The situation in the Ruaha Park has changed slightly over the last 4 days. To my relief some water has miraculously arrived from the Usangu swamp (Ihefu) It is not much but it will clear out the the very dirty water that has been stuck in the few remaining Hippo pools, however, I do not think that this water will reach the Mtera Dam. I don't expect this new flow will last more than a month or if we are lucky, two.

Ruaha River
4 View from bridge old entrance gate February 2010.
The photo above is the river in February 2010, how the river SHOULD look at this time. The photo below is the CURRENT situation, on April 18th 2011.

Ruaha River
GRR from the bridge at the old entrance gate April 18th 2011

The water is extremely dark brown almost black which indicates that it has been sitting in the swamp for a very long time with no movement, or fresh inflow of new water. Therefore, the flow into Ihefu Is so far, very small, we will know if the flow increases if the colour of the water becomes lighter.

Ruaha River

A very unpleasant dark rank pool which is all the Hippos in this area have to live in. Ruaha River at the main bridge Nov 2011


As you can see the water that remains is far from unpalatable. Ruaha River at the main bridge Nov 2011

These two photos were taken on the 13th of November, but I passed over this same spot yesterday , 27th November, and the situation is identical to the photos below. As you can see the situation is not a pretty one. Considering the Great Ruaha River is the focal point of the Park and the lifeline for all the animals that it protects, this is a very poor state of affairs.

We do hope that plans are in place to ensure that this wet seasons flows will not be stopped by the massive off takes in the Usangu Basin. Further more we hope that the flows will be sufficient to fill up the now empty Mtera Dam. Perhaps those who are not fortunate enough to be able to afford to run generators will be able to enjoy un-interrupted power this year?

We are all waiting for rain......

Greetings and best wishes to you for 2012.

The rain in December and January was good. In some areas it was spectacular and in others it was about average. But all in all the Ruaha Park and Usangu area have had more than substantial rains so far this season. Now the middle of February, we have experienced a dry spell which is normal.

From the onset of the rains in early December, the Ruaha River had irregular bursts of flood waters, emanating from the various sand rivers in the Park and also in Usangu. This water flowed for several days at a time, all from local rainstorms, in different sections along its course but it was never a constant flow. The picture below shows the flood water from a rainstorm on the 27th December 2011. This flow lasted a few days only before drying up again. One can tell it is from local flooding due to its brown colour.

Ruaha River

Ruaha River 28th Dec 2011 Ibuguziwa main bridge (old gate)

Then on the 17th of January 2012 the Usangu water came flowing down the river past the bridge at the old entrance gate (Ibuguziwa)
This water flowed on to Lunda. We know this is the Usangu water due to its dark almost black colour. See photo below.

Ruaha River

Ruaha River 28th Jan 2012 - Ibuguziwa

However, as can be seen from the photo below, taken from the same spot some 10 days later, the river level has not risen. Which it should be doing if the water was flowing without interruption or abstraction. Also the water in the photo below is slightly brown, which means that it has mixed with recent floodwater from rainstorms, which we know came from the area just South West of Jongomero. So, even more reason that the water level should be higher than it was on the 28th Jan. Finally...

Ruaha River

Ruaha River 6th Feb 2012 -Ibuguziwa

The ever present marker stone at my old camp reveals all. If you look at the 2 photos below you can see how low the river actually is. It is about one third as full as it should be.

I suspect that the massive off takes in the Usangu area are greater than ever before. It is no wonder that Mtera Dam is not filling up very fast.

If the water was allow to flow naturally I feel sure that the river and hence the dam would be an awful lot higher than what we are witnessing at present.

Ruaha River

Ruaha River 2nd Feb 2012 Sues camp - Stone marker

Ruaha River

Ruaha River 2nd Feb 2012 Sues camp - Stone marker

The Ruaha river has not increased its flow since February 2012. You can see that the grass has grown up without being hampered by any
flooding. Therefore the off-take from the Usangu Basin continues to be in vast quantities. It appears to be more each wet season, leaving
less and less to come own through Ruaha Park to the Mtera Dam.

The rainfall this wet season has been excellent in the catchment area so there has been no shortage there. The river should have covered
the stone marker completely, and should remain this way till the end of May.

The first 2 photos show the river as it was in April 2012, the third photo shows how the river should look at this time of year, this
photo was taken two years ago in April 2010. Note there is only the top of the marker showing and no grass islands. The important factor to note is that the rainfall in 2012 was the same as 2010.

There can be no doubt that off-take is increasing in volume each year during the wet season. When will this stop? When will there be a
limit on the off-take?

Ruaha River

Ruaha River April 2012

Ruaha River

Ruaha River April 2012

Ruaha River

Ruaha River April 2012

The flow of the Ruaha river is falling fast. It always does at this time of year.

The first photo was taken on the 15th of June at the bridge (the old gate- Ibuguziwa) Note there are two channels flowing.

The second photo was taken the other day on the 30th July from the same place. There is now only the one channel flowing on the right hand side.

The final photo depicts the river from my old camp. The stone marker indicates how much the river has fallen. The peak of the wet season flow usually or should, cover the top of the rock though this year it only reached half way up the rock. Presumably due to massive off take in the Usangu basin.

The rainfall this year has been good in most areas, though some areas were reported to be below average.

Ruaha River

A Ruaha River 15th June 2012 Ibuguziwa - note that two channels are flowing.

Ruaha River

B GRR 29 July 2012 Ibuguziwa - only one channel flowing.

Ruaha River

C GRR Sues camp July 7th 2012 - stone marker the height of this marker is roughly 6 ft from the sand bar.

The river is not in good shape. It stopped flowing at the bridge or old gate (Ibiguziwa) on the 20th of October. These photos are taken from the air as I left from Msembe on the 23rd of October. I have been away so have not been able to get photos from the bridge as usual, but think that these photos below, illustrate the state of the river very clearly.

You can see in the bottom photo (which is more or less opposite Msembe HQ) that the river is most definitely not flowing at that point. Also there have been reports of masses of dying fish on the Jongomero end of the river, with flocks of Pelicans coming in for the feast.

The surrounding landscape shows clearly how desperately dry it is, the lack of edible vegetation only intensifies the need for drinking water for the animals, great and small. This is always the most testing time for Ruaha, and this year is no exception.

Ruaha River

Ruaha River Msembe October 2012

Ruaha River

Ruaha River Msembe October 2012

What has happened to our river?
Its 20 years since this problem started and despite the huge sums spent on research, look where we are now !

The photo below was taken on 22nd November 2012 at the bridge (Ibuguziwa) There is no flow what so ever in the river.

Ruaha River

22nd Nov 2012 (above)

The photo below was taken from the same spot on January 23rd 2013. As you can see the flow is still very small despite the rains starting in early December.

Ruaha River

Jan 23rd 2013 (above)

The following photo was taken on the 16th of February 2013 at the same spot. The flow is even worse than it was in January, despite there being reasonable rainfall.

Ruaha River

Feb 16th 2013 (above)

The next photo shows the flow of the river at this spot on 6th February LAST year Feb 2012. We were extremely concerned last year about this LOW flow…. but my goodness it is WAY BETTER than THIS YEAR! Please compare the photos before moving on to the next.

Ruaha River

Feb 6th 2012 (above)

This photo below is of my marker rock at my old camp, it was taken on the 16th February 2013. WHERE IS THE RIVER? The river bed is completely choked by vegetation due to lack of flow. This is a disaster.

Ruaha River

Feb 16 2013 (above)

Compare the photo below. This was taken at the same spot on February 2nd last year 2012. Again as I said above, we were most concerned about this LOW flow LAST YEAR…but THIS IS HUGE COMPARED TO THIS YEAR 2013.

Feb 2nd 2012 (above)


Ruaha River Update - July 2014

Ruaha River Update - July 2014

As you can see from the above photo taken on the 23rd July 2014 the river is still looking quite good.

Please be aware though, that this is the flow we would have considered to be NORMAL only about 8 years ago. Unfortunately, the river is dropping fast, about 1.5cm per day. However, sadly, we cannot attribute the more expansive flow to positive human intervention, it is solely the result of unusually heavy rainfall throughout this region, during March and April.

Comparisons 2014/2013
Ruaha River
Ruaha River
Ruaha River at Ibuguziwa bridge
June 18th 2014
You can see that the river flowing almost bank to bank this is what we would call ‘normal’ flow for June. This is due to excessive rainfall in the catchment area. One of the higher flows on RECENT record
Ruaha River at Ibuguziwa bridge
June 15th 2013
This is how it looked at the same spot last year at almost the same time.You can see that there are slightly more green islands showing last year, but alarmingly it does not look much different to this year. 2013 was one of the lowest flows on record.
Ruaha River
Ruaha River
Ruaha River at Ibuguziwa bridge
July 23rd 2014
Now compare these two photos for July. They look almost the same! How can this be? 2014 had huge rainfall and a record flow but you wouldn’t know that now!
This just shows the huge off-take despite the fact the crops have been harvested.
Ruaha River at Ibuguziwa bridge
July 9th 2013
This is how the river looked at the same spot this time last year. Remember that 2013 had lowest flows on record. When you compare the photos on the left to those on the right you can see clearly that :- This year even more water has been abstracted than last year at this time!


Ruaha River


The rice problem

Photos from the Kapunga rice scheme, the second scheme to be started in the Usangu basin in 1987. This is but one of the 3 major schemes that draw off water from the Ruaha River. These areas are extraordinarily green, lush and covered with acres and acres of water.

It was really shocking to see the HUGE WASTAGE OF WATER .........THAT IS NORMAL! Ruaha River


Kapunga rice scheme

These photos are all taken on the 6th of July 2014

Harvested paddies lie idle but are still flooded with precious water to keep the weeds down. They will remain flooded till they are replanted in November. The height of the dry season!!!!

  Kapunga rice scheme
These photos show the extent of the flooding that is still taking place despite crops having been harvested.
Kapunga rice scheme   Kapunga rice scheme   Kapunga rice scheme
Kapunga rice scheme   Kapunga rice scheme   Kapunga rice scheme

We observed many channels being dammed, with sub channels currently under construction to take off yet more water to areas further afield.

This particular rice scheme is 13 km long, however, once we left here,water was everywhere, acres and acres of it, like shown in the above photos, from Kapunga to Rujewa some 45 km.

Such as Tourism, fishing, hydro electricity.

Why are these farmers allowed to take it ALL AND SQUANDER it?

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