Water planning decisions are only as good as our ability to explain historical trends and make reasonable predictions of future water availability. But predicting water availability can be a challenge in rapidly growing regions, where human modifications of land and waterscapes are changing the hydrologic system. Yet, many regions of the world lack the long-term hydrologic monitoring records needed to understand past changes and predict future trends.
We investigated this "predictions under change" problem in the data-scarce Thippagondanahalli (TG Halli) catchment of the Arkavathy sub-basin in southern India. Inflows into TG Halli reservoir have declined sharply since the 1970s. The causes of the drying are poorly understood, resulting in misdirected or counter-productive management responses.
Five plausible hypotheses that could explain the decline were tested using data from field surveys and secondary sources: (1) changes in rainfall amount, seasonality and intensity; (2) increases in temperature; (3) groundwater extraction; (4) expansion of eucalyptus plantations; and (5) fragmentation of the river channel. Our results suggest that groundwater pumping, expansion of eucalyptus plantations and, to a lesser extent, channel fragmentation are much more likely to have caused the decline in surface flows in the TG Halli catchment than changing climate.
The multiple-hypothesis approach presents a systematic way to quantify the relative contributions of proximate anthropogenic and climate drivers to hydrological change. The approach not only makes a meaningful contribution to the policy debate but also helps prioritize and design future research. The approach is a first step to conducting use-inspired socio-hydrologic research in a watershed.