South Africa needs a hydrological soil map: a case study from the upper uMngeni catchment


  • JJ van Tol Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
  • GM van Zijl Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa



digital soil mapping, hydropedology, catchment processes, Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), soil water balance


Accurate hydrological modelling to evaluate the impacts of climate and land use change on water resources is pivotal to sustainable management. Soil information is an important input in hydrological models but is often not available at adequate scale with appropriate attributes for direct parameterisation of the models. In this study, conducted in three quaternary catchments in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, three different soil information sets were used to configure SWAT+, a revised version of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). The datasets were: (i) the Land Type database (currently the only soil dataset covering the whole of South Africa), (ii) disaggregation of the Land Type database using digital soil mapping techniques (called DSMART), and (iii) a dataset where DSMART were complemented by field observations and interpretations of the hydropedological behaviour of the soils (DSMART+). Simulated streamflow was compared with measured streamflow at three weirs with long-term measurements, and the impact of the soil datasets on water balance simulations was evaluated. In general, the simulations were acceptable when compared to other studies, but could be improved through calibration and including small reservoirs in the model. The DSMART+ dataset yielded more accurate simulations of streamflow in all three catchments with Nash-Sutcliffe efficiencies increasing by between 9% and 67% when compared to the Land Type dataset. The value of the improved soil maps is, however, highlighted through the enhanced spatial detail of streamflow generation mechanisms and water balance components. The internal catchment processes are represented more accurately, and we argue that South Africa needs a detailed hydrological soil map for effective water resource management.


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How to Cite

JJ van Tol, & GM van Zijl. (2022). South Africa needs a hydrological soil map: a case study from the upper uMngeni catchment. Water SA, 48(4 October).



Research paper