Rainwater harvesting in the South American Dry Chaco
Monday, 15 December 2014
A vast fraction of the South American Dry Chaco ecoregion still relies on rainwater harvesting (RWH) to support, not only livestock production, but domestic and industrial uses as well. As a result, water capture and storage infrastructure is widely disseminated throughout the region. In this work we characterized the most typical RWH systems in two contrastingly developed sub-regions of Dry Chaco ranging from extensive ranching to intensive beef and dairy production (central Argentina and western Paraguay, respectively). In each sub-region, we quantified RWH density, spatial distribution and associations with landscape features; by other hand, we illustrated how the daily dynamic of water stock in a typical RWH system contributes to assess their capture and storage efficiency. We found that randomly distributed, low-tech RWH systems prevail in central Argentina, while clustered and hi-tech systems do it in western Paraguay. Their density was highly contrasting between sub-regions (0.098 vs. 0.94 units/ km2
in central Argentina and western Paraguay, respectively), being exponentially associated with land cleared fraction and proximity to villages. The daily monitoring of water level suggested a positive but complex response of water capture to precipitation. The elongated catchment area, created by roads and trails, could have partially decoupled local precipitation and water yield of the impoundment, favouring the capture of remote precipitation events and generating highly variable water yield under large local precipitation events. Once stored, the rates of water level decline suggested that infiltration exceeded evaporation as a water output pathway (59 vs. 41%, respectively, of total losses). Across both study areas, RWH accounts for less than 1% of the annual precipitation, playing a minor role on the regional water balance; however at a local level, they can affect several hydrological fluxes including the onset of groundwater recharge and the mitigation of extreme runoff events along roads and trails.