Assessment of spatial and temporal patterns of green and blue water flows under natural conditions in inland river basins in Northwest China
Abstract. In arid and semi-arid regions freshwater resources have become scarcer with increasing demands from socio-economic development and population growth. Until recently, water research and management has mainly focused on blue water but ignored green water. Furthermore, in data poor regions hydrological flows under natural conditions are poorly characterised but are a prerequisite to inform future water resources management. Here we report on spatial and temporal patterns of both blue and green water flows that can be expected under natural conditions as simulated by the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) for the Heihe river basin, the second largest inland river basin in Northwest China. Calibration and validation at two hydrological stations show good performance of the SWAT model in modelling hydrological processes. The total green and blue water flows were 22.05–25.51 billion m3 in the 2000s for the Heihe river basin. Blue water flows are larger in upstream sub-basins than in downstream sub-basins mainly due to high precipitation and a large amount of snow and melting water in upstream. Green water flows are distributed more homogeneously among different sub-basins. The green water coefficient was 87%–89% in the 2000s for the entire river basin, varying from around 80%–90% in up- and mid-stream sub-basins to above 90% in downstream sub-basins. This is much higher than reported green water coefficients in many other river basins. The spatial patterns of green water coefficients were closely linked to dominant land covers (e.g. snow cover upstream and desert downstream) and climate conditions (e.g. high precipitation upstream and low precipitation downstream). There are no clear consistent historical trends of change in green and blue water flows and the green water coefficient at both the river basin and sub-basin levels. This study provides insights into green and blue water endowments under natural conditions for the entire Heihe river basin at the sub-basin level. The results are helpful to benchmark the natural flows of water in the basin as part of improved water resources management in the inland river basins of China.