Using Citizen-Science in Hydroclimate Monitoring for Sustainable Water

04Dec 2020
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Using Citizen-Science in Hydroclimate Monitoring for Sustainable Water
  • • Using Citizen-Science in Hydroclimate Monitoring for Sustainable Water Resources Management
  • • A Single Precision Measurement Recorded 40 Years of Water Data

As demand for water rises and the risk from climate variability increases in Tanzania, efficient water resource management has become critical to guaranteeing sustainable use of these vital resources.

Decision making for sustainable management of water resources is dependent on access to accurate and reliable weather, climate data and its impacts on water resources.

Building a Network of Citizen Science Partners

This hydroclimate station at the Rufiji River Basin will continuously collect wind speed and direction, air temperature and humidity, rainfall, atmospheric pressure, and downward solar and ultraviolet radiation for research and water management decision making.

Hydroclimate (rainfall, temperature, wind, humidity, and evaporation) data are fundamental to climate risk analysis and management decisions for surface and groundwater resources.

However, the availability of this data in Tanzania is impeded by a limited hydroclimate monitoring network. Data acquisition and management is expensive and exceeds the current resources of many Tanzanian Basin Water Boards (BWBs) responsible for management of this equipment.The USAID Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI) introduced a citizen science approach to help the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji BWBs address these constraints.

The Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji BWBs are working closely with public and private partners including schools, farms, a national park, tour operator, industry, and water utilities to install and operate a network of 34 low-cost hydroclimate stations (20 in Rufiji Basin and 14 in Wami-Ruvu Basin).These stations collect wind speed and direction, air temperature and humidity, rainfall, atmospheric pressure, and downward solar and ultraviolet radiation.

The stations are installed at 2 meters above the ground in an open area and are capable of uploading their data in realtime if a Wi-Fi connection is available.

The stations have memory cards for storing information which is downloaded by Citizen science partners on monthly bases.

The stored information is shared with BWBs, accessible for use even when WiFi is not available. The partners have been selected based on their commitment to using temperature, rainfall, and other collected data in their activities and caring for the equipment.

They are also aware of their contribution to protecting their communities from flood and drought and to the socioeconomic development of their communities and the nation.

Hydroclimate (rainfall, temperature, wind, humidity, and evaporation) data are fundamental to climate risk analysis and management decisions for surface and groundwater resources.

WARIDI has trained 10 staff from the BWBs and about 30 citizen science partners to monitor and use the stations. Partners and the BWB staff have entered into a memorandum of understanding which identifies their roles and responsibilities in the operations and maintenance of the low-cost hydroclimate stations, data collection and sharing, data quality control, and development of information products.

This training and support is a major prerequisite for the institutionalization and sustainability of hydroclimate monitoring among the partners. It also serves as an important opportunity for the BWBs to collaborate, learn and adapt the citizen science approach before expanding the network.

Transforming Data into an Information Tool for Development

Teachers at 16 primary and secondary schools where installations have occurred are finding ways to integrate the data displayed on the station console into their classroom too.

“The weather station we host is very useful for the Geography Department where students learn the elements of weather recorded at our station. Moreover, teachers use the data from the station stored in the console to formulate questions that appear in examinations,” says Mbwana Mnkeni, the Head of Geography Department, at Sekwao Secondary School in Gairo District.

Partnerships with the private sector on hydroclimate monitoring are also showing promise. A large tea farm owner is using the station data for irrigation scheduling and has asked the Rufiji BWB for assistance on calculating hydroclimate indicators.

The Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji BWB have installed five stations at companies including a tea plantation, sugar company, and tourism business.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

There have been several challenges with equipment and long-term operations of the equipment will require commitment from partners. Partners help to provide station security, quality assurance, routine maintenance, and data transfer.

However electrical power issues due to the inconsistent power grid and internal clock battery issues, vandalization and theft, installation compromises, and Wi-Fi connectivity have all presented problems to continuous operations.

WARIDI has worked with local telecom companies to identify reasonably priced data SIM card options that can support the low-volume station uploads without running out of prepaid data every month.

Through effective partnerships, the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji BWBs have begun to expand their network of citizen scientists and improve Tanzania’s station-based data availability which is critical to decision making.

Continued investments in citizen science partnerships for hydroclimate monitoring present an important opportunity to expand data availability and support sustainable water resources management in Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji Basins.

Generated data is helping the Basin Water Boards (BWBs) to provide Early warning to the downstream communities in case there is threat such as flooding. Also, BWBs use climate information for water allocation processes to different water users. This story was first published on the USAID/Tanzania website and is available here. 


The streamflow gauge was at river Kizigo near the village of Chinugulu, Dodoma Rural District. It is a remote area that is difficult to reach by car, particularly in the rainy season.

Kizigo is the largest contributor to Mtera reservoir, which provides water for Mtera hydroelectric facility. Data on quantity of water flowing through Kizigo River are needed to plan the operation of the electricity power generation plant’s turbines.

Yet this information is not available. River flow is one of the most difficult variables to measure on a continuous basis. Hence amount of water flowing in Tanzania rivers is commonly derived by converting daily water level recordings in the rivers into discharge by using a mathematical formula known as a rating curve.

Hydroclimate (rainfall, temperature, wind, humidity, and evaporation) data are fundamental to climate risk analysis and management decisions for surface and groundwater resources. Establishing the shape of the rating curve requires lots of measurements on amounts of water flowing through rivers.

However, in the Tanzanian context—characterized by long distances, stations in remote rural areas only accessible over bad marram roads, and generally insufficient funds for operating an intensive field measurement program—data points are typically scarce.

In a four-year period in the 1970s, more than 250 streamflow measurements had been collected for river Kizigo, which were at the basis of an accurate rating curve.

A few more measurements were made in the early 1980s. Since then, however, no more high-quality flow measurements were conducted, and hydrologists were unable to determine the rating curve—and by association the stream flow record—with any degree of confidence for the last three decades - picture yourself driving in 2020 in an area you do not know with a roadmap from 1980.

USAID/Tanzania Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI) has introduced the Aquarius Time Series software (a software capable of doing mathematical formula that requires far less river water level measurements).

This approach assumes that parameters of the mathematical formula used in determination of the amounts of water flowing through a certain point along a river can be indirectly determined by field observations of the shape of the river at that section.

WARIDI has supported an extensive field measurement program to collect up-to-date station data needed to develop the conceptual rating curve models: 16 stations were visited in the Wami-Ruvu basin and 26 in the Rufiji basin—including hydro station Chinugulu at Kizigo.

WARIDI trained 10 hydrologists from Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji Basin Water Board Offices on measuring quantities of water flowing through rivers using a specially made instrument called ADCP and on using a computer software called Aquarius to improve the accuracy of the mathematical formula for measuring amount of water flowing in rivers.

The aim of the training is to sustain the use of both the ADCP and the software by Basin Water Board Staffs.

The Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji basins water resources are under significant pressure from population growth, socioeconomic development, climate change and food security concerns. Changes in rainfall have had a particular impact on those resources.

The measurement visits to Kizigo station took place during the rainy season in March 2018. Water levels were high, and the river was in full flood stage.

A high-quality discharge measurement was conducted—the first for a flood event for Kizigo in over 40 years. This single data point proved invaluable in re-establishing the rating curve parameters and calculating the discharge for the entire historic data record.

Kizigo—which has an entrenched channel with a narrow floodplain on the right bank— had essentially maintained its channel shape in the 40-year period from 1977 to 2019, apart from a gradually rising riverbed caused by sediment load deposits, probably because of upstream land degradation.

Nevertheless, the field observations in combination with the March 2018 measurement—and using the hydraulic approach facilitated by the Aquarius software—proved that the basic shape of the 1973-1977 rating could be maintained.

It only required adjustments for the rising river bed. A single measurement provided the verification. Aquarius provided the tools. The persistence and commitment of WARIDI and BWB staff provided the basic information. Combined, it resulted in a 40-year record of highly valuable water data.

Using the approach and tools provided, basin hydrologists are currently updating all rating curves in the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji basins.

It vastly improves the quality of the historic discharge time-series, and therefore leads to better informed decisions in water resources management in the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji basins.

Making the right decision for instance, in allocating water as well as in planning for development activities such as construction of water supply projects, Hydro-electric Power (HEP) projects requires reliable information from BWBs. An adapted version of this story was first published in Water and Waste Digest Magazine and is available here. 

Harnessing the Digital Cloud

Pre-paid meters increase water access in Tanzania

In an age where mobile phone services call rides, deliver take-out, and track steps walked, the international development sector is tapping into this technology to improve basic water service delivery.

In Tanzania, the USAID-funded Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI) and harnessing the digital cloud to ensure reliable, affordable water is available to approximately 23,000 people. Read the full story here.



Complex relationships between climate, population growth, land cover change, and other interactions make decisions on land use planning, water permitting, and donor investments in natural resources management challenging. Decision-making on how and where to make investments is improving in Tanzania due to development partners becoming more proficient in using sophisticated environmental analysis tools such as composite index mapping.

The Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji River Basins cover 30 percent of Tanzania’s land area. These economically important watersheds include 50 percent of the country’s hydropower and many fishing, forestry, tea, and sugar industries and livelihoods. These environmentally significant basins support the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of four national parks, including the Selous Game Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Rufiji-MafiaKilwa RAMSAR site. More than 7 million people live within these two basins, and the population is rapidly growing. Once covered by forests and grasslands, today much of the area is dominated by subsistence agriculture production. Small changes in precipitation and temperature, deforestation, and monoculture cropping lead to big changes in downstream water security and livelihoods. So, what can development partners do to support local governments with few resources to better manage watersheds? We have found that participatory consultation-based and data-driven approaches have enabled a range of partners to make effective development decisions and investments.

The Kilombero River is a major contributor of water flow in the Rufiji River Basin, supporting local fishermen, agriculture dominated by rice and sugar cane, and the ecosystems of the Selous Game Reserve.

Improving the Science of Decision Making

To understand these basins and their vulnerabilities to changes in the climate, USAID/Tanzania’s Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI), in collaboration with Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and its SERVIR Eastern & Southern Africa program, worked with river basin managers, climatologists, and local government officials to analyze 14 climatological, agriculture, environmental and social data sets.

Both the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji Basins have historical trends of higher temperatures and, in general, declining and perhaps less seasonally predictable rainfall.

Projections suggest a continued increase in temperature and, for the most part, increased rainfall but less predictable and more extreme rainfall events.

Building on this analysis, we used a composite indices approach to determine overall vulnerability and the relative importance of individual indicators, such as rainfall variability and land use.

The process and mapped outputs showing differential vulnerability allow development partners and the local government to understand drivers of vulnerability and ultimately make decisions on how and what can be done to plan development assistance and make investments that improve water security and resilience to climate change.

Water users and managers are anxiously looking for adaptive mechanisms to cope with such present and potential future changes.

Applying Evidence-based Decision Making in Water Resources Management

Data accessibility and quality is improving in Tanzanian and across East Africa. Part of the solution is training and supporting decision makers to analyze their own data using proven spatial approaches that are only recently becoming accessible.

Charles Mengo, a former Rufiji Basin Environmental Engineer, says “making Basin staff part of the core team to develop climate change vulnerability index maps was the best approach in ensuring not only transfer of knowledge and ownership, but also sustainability.

” These improved analysis approaches, which can be used as a framework for dialogue with diverse partners, are critically needed in order to identify how and where to spend limited financial resources effectively to achieve resilience in a changing climate.

The vulnerability assessment was conducted within the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji River Basins with overall vulnerability measured at a 5 km by 5 km resolution with maroon to green gradients representing areas of greater to lesser vulnerability, respectively.

As discussed in this video on water resources management, local government authorities, water resource managers and others in natural resources management, agriculture, and private sectors are improving management by using data and information such as composite indices.

By working at the basin and local government levels, WARIDI is facilitating coordination among decision makers to identify community interventions that enhance resilience to climate change. In three vulnerable villages with weak land tenure, District Land Offices have developed land use plans and issued almost two thousand Customary Community Rights of Occupancy (CCRO).

Land use plans and CCROs strengthen land tenure, protecting watersheds through empowering households and local governments to make long-term decisions on sustainable land management and ultimately improve water security in these two critically important water basins.

WARIDI continues to work within the Rufiji and Wami-Ruvu Basins through 2021 to improve sustainable natural resources management. An adapted version of this story was first published by USAID ClimateLinks here.

Water is Only One Valuable Resources that Villages Receive from Their New Water Schemes

Every morning, Sophia Shomari rises early in order to have enough time to prepare her kids for school and fetch water for the daily domestic activities at home.

Her current water source is a shallow well forty minutes from home. But change is on the horizon. Sophia is a wife and mother of six children in the Juu sub-village of Ilakala, where the Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI) is constructing a new water supply scheme.

“I am very grateful for this water project, I don’t even know how to repay you for this,” Sophia says. With the domestic water point at her doorstep, she won’t have to wake up so early anymore.

“I can finally use my free time and the water to make use of the knowledge I have of planting a home garden of vegetables.

Asma fetching water before work.

The Time

Toll Deodatha Conrad needs about thirty minutes every day to fetch water from shallow wells around the village for her family’s daily use.

Deodatha says she is always tired after the trips to fetch water and this saps her energy for the remainder of the chores she needs to do throughout the day.

Her husband and children recognize the strain of fetching heavy buckets of water far away from home on both her body and her time, and the multifaceted way their new water scheme enables her. “I am very grateful for this project,” she says, “I know with the free time I can expand my small business, maybe even build a store in front of my house since I’ll have time to tend to customers.

” Time is Money Asma’s story is much like that of Sophia, Deodatha and the other women of Ilakala. A local tailor, she spends at least forty minutes every day fetching water from a deep well in the village. In addition to being exhausted from her trek, this chore eats valuable time out of her day.

Tailoring is her main source of income, but Asma manages to do only a small amount of tailoring a day due to lost time fetching water.  WARIDI has given Asma more than just her time back – it’s presented new opportunities.

“I plan to do more work once the project finishes and water starts flowing from the domestic water points near my home,” Asma says. WARIDI has built a system with new 11 public water points.

Getting to Scale

The Women of Ilakala are one example of how WARIDI in collaboration with respective local government authorities is transforming the lives of thousands of women in Njombe, Iringa, and Morogoro Regions of Tanzania.

According to the Water Sector Equity Report 2019, only 48% of Tanzanians have access to improved water source in rural areas.

With just 48 percent of rural Tanzanians having access to improved water, and households spending over an hour on average per day on water collection, access to water is saving each household more than eight hours per week that can now be dedicated to other productive activities.

Ilakala community contributed to the successful implementation of the project by providing labor for trench excavation, pipe laying, backfilling and carrying of materials. WARIDI is planning to support access to basic drinking water services to 520,000 Tanzanians by 2021. To date 409,594 people have been reached.


The Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI) is a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded five-year activity which aims to improve health, water resources management, agriculture practices and climate change adaptation in the Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji river basins of Tanzania. Photos from WARIDI are available for download. Please provide credit to USAID/WARIDI.


Top Stories