Hydrological shifts threaten water resources

Keirnan Fowler, Murray Peel, Margarita Saft, Rory Nathan, Avril Horne, Robert Wilby, Connor McCutcheon, Tim Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalComment / DebateResearch

9 Citations (Scopus)


Recent shifts in the hydrological behavior of natural watersheds suggest acute challenges for water planning under climate change. Usually triggered by a multi-year drought, these shifts involve a tendency for less annual streamflow for a given annual precipitation, and this behavior has now been reported on multiple continents. Future drying under climate change may induce similar unexpected hydrological responses, and this commentary discusses the implications for water planning and management. Commonly used hydrological models poorly represent these shifts in behavior and cannot be relied upon to anticipate future changes. Thus, their use may result in underestimation of hydroclimatic risk and exposure to “surprise” reductions in water supply, relative to projections. The onus is now on hydrologists to determine the underlying causes of shifting behavior and incorporate more dynamic realism into operational models.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021WR031210
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • climate change
  • hydrological shifts
  • rainfall runoff models
  • water resources

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