The effects of ditch dams on water-level dynamics in tropical peatlands

A significant proportion of tropical peatlands has been drained for agricultural purposes, resulting in severe degradation. Hydrological restoration, which usually involves blocking ditches, is therefore a priority. Nevertheless, the influence of ditch blocking on tropical peatland hydrological functioning is still poorly understood. We studied water-level dynamics using a combination of automated and manual dipwells, and also meteorological data during dry and wet seasons over 6 months at three locations in Sebangau National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia. The locations were a forested peatland (Forested), a drained peatland with ditch dams (Blocked), and a drained peatland without ditch dams (Drained). In the dry season, water tables at all sites were deeper than the Indonesian regulatory requirement of 40 cm from the peat surface. In the dry season, the ditches were dry and water did not flow to them. The dry season water-table drawdown rates — solely due to evapotranspiration — were 9.3 mm day−1 at Forested, 9.6 mm day−1 at Blocked, but 12.7 mm day−1 at Drained. In the wet season, the proportion of time during which water tables in the wells were deeper than the 40 cm limit ranged between 16% and 87% at Forested, 0% at Blocked, and between 0% and 38% at Drained. In the wet season, water flowed from the peatland to ditches at Blocked and Drained. The interquartile range of hydraulic gradients between the lowest ditch outlet and the farthest well from ditches at Blocked was 3.7 × 10−4 to 7.8 × 10−4 m m−1, but 1.9 × 10−3 to 2.6 × 10−3 m m−1 at Drained. Given the results from Forested, a water-table depth limit policy based on field data may be required, to reflect natural seasonal dynamics in tropical peatlands. Revised spatial designs of dams or bunds are also required, to ensure effective water-table management as part of tropical peatland restoration.
  • Authors: Putra, S.S., Holden, J., Baird, A.J.
  • Author Affiliation: Ministry of Public Works and Housing of Indonesia, University of Leeds
  • Subjects: ditches, dams, water level, peatlands, tropics, drainage, catchment hydrology
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Hydrological Processes 35(5): e14174
  • Year: 2021
  • DOI:
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