Small reservoirs have developed across semi-arid areas as a low cost solution for millions of rural small holders to harvest scarce water resources. Studies have highlighted limited agricultural water use and low water availability on individual reservoirs, but no information exists on the drought patterns of multiple small reservoirs. Their small size and dispersion prevents individualised hydrological monitoring, while hydrological modelling suffers from rainfall variability and heterogeneity across data sparse catchments and reservoirs. A semi-automated original approach exploiting free, archive Landsat satellite images is developed here for long-term monitoring of multiple ungauged small water bodies. Adapted and tested against significant hydrometric time series on three lakes, the method confirms its potential to monitor water availability on the smallest water bodies (1–10 ha) with a mean RMSE of 20,600 m3
(NRMSE = 26%). Uncertainties from the absence of site-specific and updated surface-volume rating curves were here contained through a power relationship adapted over time for silting based on data from 15 surrounding lakes. Applied to 51 small reservoirs and 546 images over 1999–2014, results highlight the ability of this transposable method to shed light on flood dynamics and allow inter annual and inter lake comparisons of water availability. In the Merguellil upper catchment, in Central Tunisia, results reveal the significant droughts affecting over 80% of reservoirs, confirming the need for small reservoirs to maintain a supplementary irrigation objective only.
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