Check dam ponds [Ethiopia]

May me'ekori ketri

technologies_1547 - Ethiopia

Completeness: 78%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
SLM specialist:
SLM specialist:

Kifle Weldearegay

Mekelle University


Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Mekelle University (Mekelle University) - Ethiopia

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

It is a raised wall constructed across a stream/gully using stone, concrete and/or gabion for dual purpose, namely, to pond/store the stream flow behind it for irrigation purpose while at the same time reducing the runoff velocity and enhancing gully rehabilitation.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


A check dam pond is a raised wall constructed across a gully from stone, concrete and/or gabion to store water behind it for irrigation purpose using either gravity or lifting mechanism. The structure generally consists of construction of foundation, apron, retaining wall and the checkdam. The width of the checkdam ranges between 1 - 2 m while the height varies between 1 - 2 m depending up on the gully depth. The length of the checkdam depends on the gully width. The spacing between adjacent checkdams is determined based on two factors, namely, the gradient of the river bed and the availability of potential land that can be irrigated. It is also provided with a number of sluice gates which will be removed during the main rainy season to minimize siltation.

Purpose of the Technology: In addition to storing water for irrigation, check dam ponds decrease slope length, slope angle, runoff velocity and minimize soil erosion.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: Establishment of a check dam pond starts with collection and transportation of stone and sand. The construction is started by setting out the dimensions from the design on the selected site and excavating the foundation for the different parts, namely, key trench, apron and retaining wall. The check dam is then constructed using gabions filled with stones and tightly tied together with wire. Finally the superstructure is plastered using mortar to prevent the passage of water through the body. Gates of about 1 m wide are finally constructed at about 1 m interval and fitted with sluice gates. Maintenance usually involves fixing damaged gates and reinforcing gabions.

Natural / human environment: Check dam pond is implemented in gentle (2 - 5%) and moderate (5 - 8%) slopes and in medium and light soil types of at least 1 m depth. It increases water availability for irrigation and livestock consumption purposes. It also reduces runoff velocity thereby decreasing soil erosion and enhancing gully rehabilitation.

It requires skilled labour and high construction cost. As a result, it is constructed through external support. However, the number of communities seeking for external support and willing to contribute their share is at the rise. The technology minimizes greatly the risk of crop failure and improves the livelihood of the land users.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:


Further specification of location:

Kilite Awlaelo

Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • evenly spread over an area
If precise area is not known, indicate approximate area covered:
  • 1-10 km2

2.6 Date of implementation

If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date:
  • less than 10 years ago (recently)

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through projects/ external interventions

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied



  • Annual cropping
Annual cropping - Specify crops:
  • cereals - barley
  • cereals - maize
  • vegetables - root vegetables (carrots, onions, beet, other)
  • tomatoes, wheat, teff
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 2

Longest growing period in days: 150Longest growing period from month to month: June - NovemberSecond longest growing period in days: 105Second longest growing period from month to month: January - April


Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): Deforestation and overgrazing, high erosion risk, gully formation and land loss, decline in productivity.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): Population pressure, deforestation, flood, soil erosion, reduced productivity.

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • mixed rainfed-irrigated

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • water harvesting
  • irrigation management (incl. water supply, drainage)
  • surface water management (spring, river, lakes, sea)

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

structural measures

structural measures

  • S6: Walls, barriers, palisades, fences

Main measures: structural measures

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

soil erosion by water

soil erosion by water

  • Wt: loss of topsoil/ surface erosion
  • Wg: gully erosion/ gullying
  • Wm: mass movements/ landslides
  • Wo: offsite degradation effects

Main type of degradation addressed: Wg: gully erosion / gullying

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion, Wm: mass movements / landslides, Wo: offsite degradation effects

Main causes of degradation: deforestation / removal of natural vegetation (incl. forest fires), Heavy / extreme rainfall (intensity/amounts), other natural causes (avalanches, volcanic eruptions, mud flows, highly susceptible natural resources, extreme topography, etc.) specify (Steep topography that increases amount and velocity of flood), population pressure

Secondary causes of degradation: crop management (annual, perennial, tree/shrub), over-exploitation of vegetation for domestic use, overgrazing, floods, land tenure, poverty / wealth, education, access to knowledge and support services

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • reduce land degradation
  • restore/ rehabilitate severely degraded land

Main goals: mitigation / reduction of land degradation

Secondary goals: rehabilitation / reclamation of denuded land

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Check dam ponds are raised walls constructed across a stream/gully using stone, concrete and/or gabion for dual purpose, namely, to pond/store the stream flow behind it for irrigation purpose while at the same time reducing the runoff velocity and enhancing gully rehabilitation.

Location: Tigray. Kilte Awlaelo

Date: 10/10/2014

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: high

Technical knowledge required for land users: high

Technical knowledge required for Engineer/designer: high

Main technical functions: control of dispersed runoff: impede / retard, reduction of slope length

Secondary technical functions: reduction of slope angle, increase of infiltration, increase of groundwater level / recharge of groundwater, sediment retention / trapping, sediment harvesting

Wall/ barrier
Vertical interval between structures (m): n/a
Spacing between structures (m): n/a
Height of bunds/banks/others (m): 1 - 2
Width of bunds/banks/others (m): 1 - 2

Construction material (stone): Stones are usually shaped in order to piece together very well.

Construction material (concrete): The chekdam is usually plastered by concrete on the upstream side to prevent the passage of water th

Construction material (other): Gabion, Sheet metal and Angle iron.

Slope (which determines the spacing indicated above): 2 - 8%

Lateral gradient along the structure: 0%


Eyasu Yazew, P.O.Box 231, Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):


If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


Indicate average wage cost of hired labour per day:


4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Site clearance and excavation of foundation Dry season
2. Stone collection and transportation Dry season
3. Sand collection and transportation Dry season
4. Gabion masonry work Dry season
5. Plastering Dry season

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour Labour ha 1.0 4678.0 4678.0 25.0
Construction material Cement ha 1.0 953.0 953.0
Construction material Gabion ha 1.0 6268.0 6268.0
Construction material Sheet metal ha 1.0 44.0 44.0
Construction material Angle iron ha 1.0 56.0 56.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 11999.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 666.61

Duration of establishment phase: 6 month(s)

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. Fixing damaged gates and reinforcing gabions Dry season

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)


Machinery/ tools: Digging hoe, shovel, hammer, crow bar

Since the check dam ponds generally vary in depth, width and most importantly in length depending up on the gully profile, calculation of cost per meter length will not be a reliable presentation. As a result, one typical check dam pond was selected and the total volume of the structure and the corresponding total cost of construction calculated. Then, the cost per cubic meter of the check dam was determined by dividing the total construction cost to the total volume of the structure.

The calculation includes the cost for the purchase of industrial materials (cement, gabion, sheet metal and angle iron) and cost of labour used for the construction including site clearance and excavation of foundation, stone and sand collection and transportation, gabion masonry work and plastering.

The price of the industrial materials and the labour wage used in the cost calculation apply to 2012. The daily labour wage for plastering is 180 Birr while it is 50 Birr for all other works.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Labour, availability of construction material, depth and width of gully.

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Specifications/ comments on rainfall:

Average rainfall of 450-550 mm, Main rainy season from Mid-June to August.

Agro-climatic zone
  • semi-arid

Thermal climate class: subtropics

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • coarse/ light (sandy)
  • medium (loamy, silty)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • low (<1%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil fertility is low (medium soils, ranked 1) and very low (light soils, ranked 2)
Soil drainage/infiltration is medium (ranked 1) and good (ranked 2)
Soil water storage capacity is medium (ranked 1) and low (ranked 2)

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

5-50 m

Availability of surface water:


Water quality (untreated):

for agricultural use only (irrigation)

Comments and further specifications on water quality and quantity:

Availability of surface water is good (September - January). Also medium (February-June)

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • low

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • subsistence (self-supply)
Off-farm income:
  • less than 10% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • poor
  • average
Individuals or groups:
  • groups/ community
Level of mechanization:
  • manual work
  • animal traction
  • women
  • men
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Land users applying the Technology are mainly common / average land users
Population density: 100-200 persons/km2
Annual population growth: 2% - 3%
10% of the land users are rich and own 10% of the land.
60% of the land users are average wealthy and own 55% of the land (35 Birr/day/person).
30% of the land users are poor and own 35% of the land.

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha
Is this considered small-, medium- or large-scale (referring to local context)?
  • small-scale

Average land holding is 0.6 ha per household.

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • state
Land use rights:
  • communal (organized)
  • individual
Water use rights:
  • communal (organized)

5.9 Access to services and infrastructure

  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
technical assistance:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
employment (e.g. off-farm):
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
roads and transport:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
drinking water and sanitation:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
financial services:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
Mobile communication:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


crop production


risk of production failure

Water availability and quality

water availability for livestock


water quality for livestock


irrigation water availability


irrigation water quality

Income and costs

expenses on agricultural inputs


farm income



Comments/ specify:

Also: Requires skilled labour

Socio-cultural impacts

food security/ self-sufficiency


health situation

Comments/ specify:

Increased investment in health care as a result of increased income.

community institutions


SLM/ land degradation knowledge


conflict mitigation


situation of socially and economically disadvantaged groups


Improved livelihoods and human well-being


Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

water quantity


harvesting/ collection of water


groundwater table/ aquifer




soil loss

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

plant diversity


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

water availability


downstream flooding


downstream siltation


damage on public/ private infrastructure


6.3 Exposure and sensitivity of the Technology to gradual climate change and climate-related extremes/ disasters (as perceived by land users)

Climate-related extremes (disasters)

Hydrological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
general (river) flood not well

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:

very positive

Long-term returns:

very positive

How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:

very positive

Long-term returns:

very positive

6.5 Adoption of the Technology


100% of land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

500 land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

There is no trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: There is no trend for spontaneous adoption due to high costs. However, communities are increasingly seeking external support to implement this technology.

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Increased water availability for irrigation and livestock consumption

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Watershed management
Reduced soil erosion

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Construction of retaining walls
Increased employment opportunity and income from irrigation

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Cultivation of high value crops
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Increased water availability for irrigation as well as livestock consumption

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Integrated watershed management
Reduce slope length, angle and erosion risk and enhance gully rehabilitation

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Regular maintenance of the structure

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
High cost of construction Selecting a site that has good availability of construction material and that can irrigate as large area as possible.
Require skilled labour Training of land users
Labour intensive Mass mobilization

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Staff members of the Kilte Awlaelo Wereda Office of Agriculture and Rural Development and Office of Water Resources Development

Links and modules

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