Environmental change over two decades since dredging and excavation of the lower Boro River, Okavango Delta, Botswana



The Okavango Delta, southern Africa's largest wetland, is situated on the fringe of the semi-arid Kalahari Desert. It is a large alluvial fan, occupying a graben structure which is an extension of the East African Rift system. Of the 16 km3 of water which enters the Delta each year, 96% is lost to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration, 2% to groundwater and only 2% leaves as surface flow. In order to increase surface outflow to meet human needs, the distal Boro channel–floodplain system was dredged, excavated and bunded between 1971 and 1974. The immediate impact of these measures was the destruction of in-channel flora. After 20 years, the aquatic flora has recovered in the excavated channel. However, little recovery has occurred along the channel reach which was dredged. Moreover, there has been significant encroachment of terrestrial species onto the floodplain in the region of the dredged channel. In addition, dredging created a nick point which has been migrating upstream by headward erosion since dredging ceased. The average rate of advance of the nick point has been about 500 m per year. Incision associated with nick point migration has produced a channel which is indistinguishable in form from the dredged channel and, like the dredged channel, is almost completely devoid of in-channel aquatic flora. The adverse environmental impact of dredging has therefore continued to propagate in an upstream direction, although the height of the nick point has decreased, suggesting a natural attenuation process. This is likely to result in eventual elimination of the nick point.