In the central highlands of Ethiopia there is rapid land use/land cover change and subsequent soil loss which negatively affects the potential use of an area. This study intended to analyze change in land use/land cover and estimate the rate of soil loss in Debais watershed, Central highlands of Ethiopia.To address the rate of land use/land cover change,the Land sat image of years 1984, 2000 and 2017 were used. A Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model adapted to Ethiopian conditions within the GIS environment was also used to estimate potential soil loss. The results of the study revealed that there was continuous expansion of cultivated land, built-up area and bare land at the rate of 386hayr-1, 33ha yr-1 and 27 ha yr-1 respectively. On the other hand, forestland, bush/shrub land and grassland showed reduction with the rate of 34ha yr-1, 114 ha yr-1and 297 hayr-1 respectively over the entire study period. Based on the level of soil erosion rates, the study area was divided into five priority categories for conservation interventions. About 51% (229 km2) of the watershed is categorized under none to slight class values ranging from 0.5 to 10t ha-1yr-1. The remaining 49 % (1376.48 ha) of the land was classified under moderate, high, very high and sever class which is greater than the maximum tolerable soil loss. Thus applying appropriate land management practices to reduce rate of vegetation degradation and soil loss was recommended for the study area.
Keywords: Debais Watershed; Highland of Ethiopia; Land use/land cover;RUSLE; Soil loss.