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Understanding the water resources of the Ayeyarwady Basin, Myanmar

The Ayeyarwady River is Myanmar’s largest and most commercially important river but its water resources are not well understood.

With the support of the Australian Water Partnership, the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar commissioned the first integrated assessment of the natural resources of the Ayeyarwady Basin. eWater lead the surface water assessment for the State of the Basin Assessment (SOBA).

The Ayeyarwady Basin

With an area of just over 675 000 km2, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar is the second largest country in South-East Asia, after Indonesia. 

The Ayeyarwady River starts in the Himalayas, flowing for approximately 2 000 km in a north-south direction through Central Myanmar. The river basin has a total area of 413,700 km2 and covers about 61% of Myanmar. About 5% of the Basin extends into the neighbouring countries of India (to the west) and China (to the east). 

The Ayeyarwady River Basin is dominated by a monsoonal rainfall regime, associated with the south-western Indian monsoon. It is also affected by convectional systems and cyclones from the Bay of Bengal. Groundwater flows to the streams and snowmelt from the northern regions are also important contributions to basin flows.  

The Ayeyarwady River Basin is still a relatively undeveloped basin. Like the majority of Myanmar, most of the Basin is characterized as rural, with agriculture the main use of water. 

Ayeyarwady River, view from Bupaya bagan (credit: tuanjai62/ Adobe Stock)

Project overview

The SOBA provides a baseline assessment of the basin’s water and other natural resources, from which future management options can be compared against.

eWater developed a preliminary baseline Source water system model for the Ayeyarwady Basin (north of the delta), from which a baseline assessment of the basin’s surface water resources was undertaken.

The model is run with historic climate data for 1982 to 2016, land use in 2014 and storage capacity in 2016. It represents agriculture, domestic, urban and hydropower water use.

For the first time, the baseline assessment gives water managers a description of the hydrology of the Ayeyarwady River Basin according to 5 Hydro-Ecological Zones and 13 sub-basins, significantly increasing the understanding of both water availability and water use in the basin. For example, in the figure below, we can see the different components that contribute to flow at the end of the system as an annual total and during the critical dry season, it shows how much water is provided by different sources and how much of this water is used or lost to evaporation.

Flow components at the end of the Ayeyarwady Basin, annually and in the dry season

The water system model is a first cut at drawing together the information required to adequately understand and simulate the complexities of the Ayeyarwady River Basin. The baseline model will be a key tool to support the future management of the basin’s water resources, making it possible to:   

  • Combine outputs from the model together with observed values, to provide an overall assessment of water availability and uses across the Ayeyarwady River Basin.  
  • Understand baseline water availability and use, to support the ongoing assessment of the Basin’s water resources and to examine possible future scenarios and possible implications, for example with climate change or increased agricultural use. 
  • Simulate components of the hydrological cycle at locations where observed values are not available. 
  • Identify information gaps and inform future data collection initiatives. 

Scoping Study

Following the completion of the SOBA, eWater was engaged to undertake a scoping study of potential development options for the mainstream of the Ayeyarwady River and tributary flows. The study was also supported by the Australian Water Partnership.

The scoping study sought to demonstrate how water resource models can be used to assess management scenarios and provide valuable outputs to support stakeholder consultation.

The surface water system model was adapted to allow it to provide information on the likely changes in the Ayeyarwady mainstream and tributaries from different development scenarios. The scoping model can assess the likely flow changes from different development options, to consider the impact on water dependent outcomes such as irrigation, hydropower production, surface water flow heights and and flood magnitude. It is not intended to evaluate specific development proposals.

The scoping model was used to compare a High Development Scenario of hydropower on the tributaries and some irrigation development in the Central Dry Zone against a baseline scenario. The baseline scenario included ‘current’ irrigation demand and hydropower dams representing 2000 megawatts of hydropower, it does not include some 30 irrigation storages where data was not available.

The results compared include:

  • Change in hydropower generation on an annual and seasonal basis, inter-annual variability was also assessed. 
  • Agriculture water use and availability assessed on an annual and inter-annual basis. 
  • An assessment of changes to hydrographs at Sagaing, Pyay and Monywa, including changes in flow volume as well as surface water level.

An example of the scoping model outputs is shown below. In this, dry season irrigation extraction under the baseline and high development scenarios are compared.

Dry season demand for water under the baseline and high development scenarios.

Capacity Building

eWater conducted face to face training programs to introduce water managers in Myanmar to the principles of hydrological modelling and the use of Source. The training used the new Ayeyarwady Source model, providing participants with hands-on experience in the use of the model.

eWater’s Geoff Davis presenting Source training in Myanmar



Strengthening Water Resources Management in Afghanistan

The Strengthening Water Resources Management in Afghanistan (SWaRMA) project is a two year collaboration between the governments of Afghanistan and Australia through the CSIRO.

eWater, in collaboration with the CSIRO has supported the initiative through:

  • Developing a Kabul Basin Model.
  • Developing a Whole-of-Afghanistan water availability model.
  • Capacity building in water resource modelling with eWater Source.
Panjshir valley in Eastern Afghanistan (credit:mbrand85/AdobeStock)

Kabul Basin Model

The Kabul River Basin is located in Eastern Afghanistan. It joins the Indus River in neighbouring Pakistan. Most inflows are generated from snow melt in the sub-basins of the Panjsher and Konar rivers, which are located high in the Hindu-Kush mountains, with their heavy snowfalls and many glaciers. The catchment is largely undeveloped, with only 6% of land used for cropping (FAO, 2010) and 1% urban. Kabul City is the largest urban area with a population of 4 million.

The model includes water demands for irrigated cropping, urban water, hydropower and the expected water demand from the Aynak mine. Minimum flow requirements are included to meet environmental needs. Urban demands are only modelled for Kabul City, as it is the only urban demand large enough to have an impact on downstream water supply. After consultation with the Ministry of Energy And Water (MEW), demands for Kabul were estimated as 120 L per person per day. Water demand on groundwater is factored into water use for Kabul City, since it is known that over time the reliance on groundwater for Kabul City will change to using surface water from the proposed Shatoot and/or Gulbahar dams. The model is conceptualised to provide for this change in the future.

The Source model for the Kabul Basin provides a broad scale representation of the Kabul River basin and its key water demand and supply elements. It serves as a tool for capacity building, including demonstrating the use of models to assess different water management scenarios. The model is not currently intended to be applied as an operational model of the system. However, it has been conceptualised to provide a framework representing the key features which can be extended with further information regarding management rules and requirements. 

This model has been handed over to the Ministry of Energy and Water, so they can continue to develop the model and use it to more detailed analysis and water resource planning and management. 

Integrated Source model for the Kabul River Basin
Integrated Source model for the Kabul River Basin

Rapid assessment of whole of Afghanistan water availability

The Source platform makes it possible to explore water availability across multiple scales, from the scale of sub-catchment tributary to major river basin scale to the whole country. A whole of Afghanistan Source model was built to undertake a rapid assessment of water availability in Afghanistan’s five major river basins. Due to limited historical data, the assessments were based on daily global data inputs for the period 2006-2016 and long-term monthly average flows from pre-1980.

Afghanistan is a land locked country and shares its river basins with its neighbouring countries. The use of global input sets helped overcome potential issues of sourcing this data from these other countries. However, a lack of available observed flow sites within these countries meant that neighbouring flow contributions could not be calibrated.

Due to lack of observed flows, it was only possible to calibrate against historical average monthly flows. As such the model can only be considered to represent long-term average conditions across Afghanistan and can only give an indicative assessment of water availability. In time, the model can be further developed as data and knowledge improve.

The rapid assessment provides a much needed baseline tool and information source for water managers. The figure below is an example of the outputs available from the model, it shows the area-weighted outflow per sub-catchment, providing an indication of the distribution of water availability across Afghanistan. It shows that the higher mountain areas are the main source of flows, particularly the Hindu Kush mountains, which receives significant snow in winter.

Area weighted outflows per sub-catchment in Afghanistan

References

FAO (2010) Land cover of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationshttps://dwms.fao.org/~draft/lc_2010_en.asp (accessed 12/12/2018) 


Learn more about SWaRMA here





Partnering with the Mekong River Commission

eWater has worked with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since 2013. 

Established in 1995 under the Mekong Agreement. The MRC is an inter-governmental agency working with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam with the goal of jointly managing the shared water resource and the sustainable development of the Mekong River.

Since 2013, eWater has partnered with the MRC on several projects.

The Mekong River Luang Prabang, Laos

Modelling in the Mekong River Basin

Beginning in 2013, eWater and the MRC worked together to trial the adoption of Source in the Mekong. This included developing a plugin to convert the MRC’s existing IQQM (Integrated Quantity and Quality Model) models to Source. Initially, work focused on the 3C catchment, and was progressively expanded to the whole of the Mekong.

eWater Source models are now used to simulate flows, sediment loads, nutrient levels, hydropower production, and agricultural and industrial water use to assess the impacts of water resources developments and to assess national water resource development plans from a basin-wide perspective.

Over the years, eWater has provided capacity building and technology transfer focusing on hands-on training and technical support to the Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS) and MRC Member Countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam). 

Mekong River Council Study

The MRC Council Study is the first water resource study of this scale for the Mekong Basin.  In 2018-19, eWater contributed to the MRC Council Study using Source to integrate information and existing SWAT basin models via plugins. 

MRC Procedures for Water Use Monitoring (PWUM)

eWater implemented pilot projects to test the Procedures for Water Use Monitoring in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.  The MRC Water Use Monitoring procedures provide for the visualisation and analysis of trade-offs in different water management scenarios.  The implementation of the pilot projects using water resource modelling is a major step towards a basin-wide water use monitoring in the Mekong Basin.

Data and information systems upgrade

In May 2019, eWater was invited by the MRC Secretariat to support a two-year initiative to reinvigorate its data, information, modelling, forecasting and communication systems to provide enhanced and timely information to the public and MRC Member Countries. 

eWater’s involvement was funded by the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The MRC’s systems upgrade covers data collection and acquisition, data and information management, data analysis and assessment, and data and information reporting and communication. The initiative will support the Secretariat to:

  • provide enhanced and timely information to the public and MRC Member Countries
  • implement key responsibilities, such as assessing the state of the Basin and tracking development in the Basin
  • respond to emerging issues, such as changes in flow regimes
  • strengthen its role as a regional knowledge hub. 

Working closely with the Secretariat and other Australian experts, we prepared a concept design for the systems upgrade, it will see a transformation in the way the Secretariat collects, analyses, uses and communicates water information. The design concept was approved by the MRC Joint Committee in November 2019.

Other important aspects of the support include training in the use of Source for water management planning and the integration of operations and flood forecasting.  In partnership with water agencies and regional modelling groups, we are also helping establish a Community of Practice and Best Practice Guidelines. Relationships with key academic and research stakeholders in the region have also been strengthened. 

The project has included close collaboration with the MRC Secretariat and experts from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, including review of existing systems, drafting of recommendations and presenting to members of the MRC and MRC Secretariat on the approaches used in Australia.

The project features as a success story in the MRC 2019 Annual Report.




Integrated Water Resources Management in Lao PDR

Water is essential to life and culture in the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao. More than third of GDP and 75% of employment comes from subsistence agriculture, which is heavily dependent on rainfall and Lao’s rivers.

Traditionally, the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao (Lao PDR) was considered a water rich country, but increasing demand for water, especially in the dry season is putting pressure on water resources. Climate change is also affecting the region, with water quality impacted by rising temperatures and water infrastructure at risk from increased flash flooding.

In response, the Government of Lao PDR is implementing a series of water reforms, including developing a National Water Resources Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2020 and major amendments to the Water and Resources Law were approved in 2017. The new law focuses on better protection of water resources and sustainable use to support national economic development.

Supporting these reforms is the World Bank funded Mekong Integrated Water Resource Management (MIWRM) program, which seeks to establish good examples of integrated water resources management practice at the local, regional and river basin scales.

Landscape view over Xe Don river in Pakse, Laos (credit: Marek/AdobeStock)

The project

eWater was engaged under the MIWRM program to support the Lao PDR Natural Resources and Environment Research Institute (NRERI) Hydrological Modelling Unit to build its capability to develop and apply water models for water resource assessment, sustainable water management and to support policy and investment decision making.

Surface water resource models for four basins; Xe Bang Fai, Xe Bang Hieng, Xe Don and Xe Kong were built and calibrated using the eWater Source platform. The models were used to evaluate:

  • total water availability from surface runoff
  • inter-basin water transfers
  • water demands and consumption for domestic, industrial and agriculture users
  • hydropower operations and production.

Water supply and demand were summarised on a monthly basis and the impacts of water resource development on natural flow patterns were evaluated.

In addition, to understand the relative impacts of different water resources development options in the Xe Kong basin, four development scenarios were assessed:

  1. current (2017) conditions
  2. hydropower development
  3. irrigation development
  4. combined development.

Each scenario was evaluated under historical climate conditions and a climate change scenario. This initial assessment seeks to demonstrate the power modelling can bring to the decision-making process and inform the development of a later detailed scenario assessment.

Overcoming data constraints

Traditionally, good water modelling relies on high-quality, measured data. However, such data is often uncommon in countries such as Lao PDR. To address this, much of the data used in the modelling came from global, remotely sensed data sets, calibrated against the limited measured data.

Despite the limited measured data, good calibration was achieved in all four basins, demonstrating that the Source model platform is an effective tool for low-data environments. Importantly, Source has the ability to incorporate additional data as it becomes available, progressively increasing reliability and accuracy over time. 

Implementation

The project has helped to increase the capacity of water managers in Lao PDR to build and use water models. The four models build for the project give water managers vital information and new tools for responding to emerging water management challenges, such as:

  • annual and seasonal water availability
  • annual and seasonal water flow patterns, and how these vary from natural conditions
  • annual and seasonal water usage
  • actual and potential water shortages
  • hydropower demands and impacts on flow patterns and water balance

Example outputs from the model are shown in the figures below, they provide easy to understand, practical information to guide decision making.

Summary of basin characteristics.
NB: For Xe Bang Fai the installed capacity represents the NamTheun 2 hydropower project, which is located outside of the basin and diverts water into the basin.
Summary of average annual water demands and the deficit in supply (represented as negative values) for the four basins.

Capacity building 

Building the capability of the NRERI Hydrological Modelling team was a core focus of the project. eWater provided tailored Source training and worked closely with the team in building the four models and developing the scenarios to be tested.

Participants at a workshop to develop scenarios for the Xe Kong basin. Attendees were from NRERI, other Lao PDR government agencies, the World Bank and eWater




Arghandab Integrated Water Resource Management Project – Afghanistan

Decades of war and political instability have decimated most of Afghanistan’s water infrastructure and reduced the technical capacity of the water resources sector. 

In response, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is undertaking a range of initiatives to invest in new infrastructure,  improve water resource management and increase capability. One such initiative is the Arghandab Integrated Water Resource Management Project. 

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting the Afghanistan Government to scope the Arghandab Integrated Water Resource Management Project. The project will finance infrastructure to increase water resources for irrigated agriculture, urban water supply, and power generation for Afghanistan’s second largest city Kandahar and surrounding areas.

Farmland in Kandahar (credit Paul/AdobeStock)

Using Source to support infrastructure investment

eWater was invited to provide technical assistance to the project, through a rapid hydrologic study of the Arghandab River and capacity building through training in the use of the Source modelling platform. eWater’s involvement was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). 

eWater, in collaboration with modellers in Afghanistan built a baseline Source model for the Arghandab River Basin. The model is used to generate inflows to Dahla Dam for the period 2002 to 2016. 

The model allows different multi-sector allocation scenarios for irrigation, urban water supply, hydropower and downstream flows to be compared against each other, providing key inputs to support the decision-making process. The potential impacts of climate change on the different options is considered by modelling different inflow scenarios. 

Overcoming data constraints

Water models typically rely on observed measurements for flow, rainfall, evaporation etc. However, such data is very limited in Afghanistan.  A combination of data from historic sources and remotely sensed sources were evaluated and used to develop the Source model. The hydrology is simulated using the GR4J and GR4JSG hydrological models which, respectively, represent direct rainfall-runoff and snow melt processes. The hydrology is calibrated to historic average monthly observed values.

Given that this is a rapid study where limited time is available to explore alternate sources of data such as some of the globally generated flow sequences used for detailed climate change modelling, an expedient approach to calibrating the model was adopted.  This was to assume stationarity in average monthly flows and calibrate to observed monthly average discharge values despite differences in dates between rainfall and discharge. This averaging impacts on the predictive ability of the model for extreme events such as flash flooding associated with sudden high rainfall since extreme peaks in flows can happen at a sub-monthly scale. 

Nonetheless, the model significantly increases the information available to water managers to understand current flows and support initial investigations into the impact of changes in dam size and demand over time and with climate change. Examples of the model outputs are shown below. 

Monthly flows

Flows are highly variable, particularly during the wet season. Monthly flows are lowest in October and November, and highest in April. The figure below shows the possible range in total monthly flows predicted by the Source model, with the grey area representing modelled minimum and maximum flows for each month. The modelled period 2002 – 2016 includes the drought years of 2010  2016 as well as extreme flows observed in 2007. Mean and median flows are also indicated.

Shows the total modelled monthly inflows to the Dahla Reservoir (2002 – 2016). Flows start increasing in December, peaking in April. Flows start falling through June and July, with virtually no flow from August to November.
Range in total modelled monthly inflows to the Dahla Reservoir (2002 – 2016)

Impact of climate change on flows

The projected impact of changes in temperature and rainfall on average total monthly inflows to Dahla Dam, between the baseline period (2002 – 2016) and future 2050 are illustrated in Figure X. Expected higher temperatures will cause snow to melt sooner in the season with an increase in flow in March and less water available from May resulting in a longer low flow season.

Average total monthly flow volumes (Baseline 2002 – 2016 and 2050)



River Basin Models and Water Sharing Policy in the upper Godavari Sub-Basin, Maharashtra, India

Resolving tension between farmers upstream and downstream over water allocations in the upper Godavari River in Maharashtra was the focus of a four year engagement in the west Indian State by eWater.

The Maharashtra and New South Wales governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation across a wide range of issues.  Under the provisions of this MOU, the Government of Maharashtra in partnership with the NSW Department of Industry, Lands and Water (then) engaged eWater to provide training, technology transfer, and ongoing support in the use of Australian river modelling technology to Maharashtra.

eWater assisted the Maharashtra Department of Water Resources to develop a modelling framework to test water management options and to support the development of an integrated water resources management (IWRM) plan for the Upper Godavari sub-basin.

Basin overview

The Godavari River basin is India’s second largest river basin, it covers 50% of the land area of Maharashtra state.  It is a complex system, with 20 dams. Water use includes irrigated crops, industry and domestic use in urban and rural areas, including drinking water.  Water availability and equitable distribution of water within the sub-basin are major public concerns that have resulted in legal challenges.

Within the sub-basin there is significant spatial and inter-annual variability in monsoon rainfall. Typically, runoff is generated in the high-rainfall, high-elevation areas of the sub-basin with little runoff generation in the area near the large Paithan irrigation dam at the outlet of the Upper Godavari. 

Paithan Dam, after upstream monsoon rains.

Project outcomes

The project had two primary outputs, a calibrated Source model for the Upper Godavari Sub-Basin and building the capacity of the Maharashtra Department of Water Resources.

eWater, in collaboration with modellers from the Maharashtra Department of Water Resources set-up and calibrated a Source model for the Upper Godavari sub-basin. The model was used to evaluate water management options to improve equitable access to water across the sub-basin. Model outputs were used to inform the integrated water resource management plan

eWater and the NSW Department of Industry, Lands and Water used outputs from the river basin models to establish and focus communication and discussion with the Maharashtra Water Resources Department about improved water management policies and governance processes to implement the objectives of the Maharashtra State Water Policy. With a key focus being improving targeted communications to farmers in the basin.

eWater delivered a comprehensive training program in the use of Source, with customised training based on the Upper Godavari model. Training was held in India and Australia, both involved a combination of hands-on desktop learning and field visits to better understand the linkages between models and on-ground water management. 

More broadly, the project brought together water managers, academics and researchers in the Upper Godavari sub-basin to establish a community of practice that allows lessons and experiences to be shared across other sub-basins in Maharashtra.

Delegates learning about modern irrigation technology in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Award winning project

The success of the project was recognized at India Water Week 2019, when the national Minister for Jal Shakti (Water Resources) presented an award to the Maharashtra Water Resources Department (WRD) for using eWater Source modelling framework to achieve equitable distribution of water in the Upper Godavari Sub-basin.

Left to right: Mr Arun Ghate (IWRM team GMIDC), Mr Jasing Hire (IWRM team GMIDC), Mr Ajay Kohirkar (Executive Director GMIDC), Mr Dilip Tawar (Chief Engineer GMIDC), Mr Rajendra Pawar (Secretary Command Area Development, WRD), Ms. Sonali Nagargoje (IWRM team GMIDC), Mr. Avirat Chavan (IWRM team GMIDC)



Using Australian water tools to develop new drought metrics for Cambodia

eWater, Geoscience Australia (GA) and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) collaborated to pilot using space-based data to forecast streamflows and water availability.

With the support of the Australian Water Partnership, eWater, GA and the BOM worked with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (UNESCAP) to develop new metric’s for the their ‘Regional Cooperative Mechanism for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning in Asia and the Pacific’ (the Regional Drought Mechanism)

The project integrated three leading Australian tools for water management:

  • Australia’s National Hydrology Modelling Platform – eWater Source
  • GA’s Open Data Cube for accessing and managing space-based data
  • the BOM’s streamflow forecasting tools

The pilot project integrated the three tools, to develop streamflow and water availability forecasts from space-based data. Traditionally, such information requires significant on-ground data and complex analysis tools. The pilot highlights the potential of the integrated suite of tools to significantly increase the information available to water and agricultural managers and farmers to anticipate and plan for drought conditions.

Further, the use of Open Data Cube technology enabled many Source model inputs to be generated automatically, reducing the time to build the model, potentially making modelling more accessible to water managers.

The information was made available in a relatively simple format and accessed through mobile technology via https://escap.ewater.org.au/

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As this image shows, water levels in Cambodia are highlighly variable. Metrics such as those produced in the pilot provide more information to help Cambodian water managers and users adapt. (credit: simoscalise/ Adobe Stock)