Major rivers, with one significant exception?the middle reaches of the Cavalla River and its largest tributary, the Dube River?flow generally in the direction of the mountain ridges, i.e., from northeast to southwest at right angles to the coast. Inland, the gradients are fairly steep and irregular; falls or rapids are frequent in the belts of hills and low mountains and plateaus, particularly at the points at which one terrain belt gives way to another. Near the coast, however, the gradient becomes gentle, and the strong tidal currents prevent the streams from removing sand accumulations. Many rivers therefore flow parallel to the coast for several miles before they can enter the, Atlantic Ocean. Of the 15 main river basins, the six most important (from the Sierra Leone border to that with Ivory Coast) are the Mano, the Lofa, the Saint Paul, the Saint John, the Cestos, and the Cavalla.
All the major rivers carry a good volume of water year?round, but the rainfall pattern and the rapid runoff in the watersheds lead to substantial variations in flow. Most streams overflow their banks after the heavy downpours that mark the rainy season. Even at their highest, the rivers are not navigable for any appreciable distance inland. Rock?strewn rapids, tortuous channels, and small islands prevent much use of the rivers for travel. Only near the coast is some river transport possible. The rivers, however, have been used to generate hydroelectric power (see Energy Sources, ch. 3).
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