Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2435–2447, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2435–2447, 2013

Research article 04 Jul 2013

Research article | 04 Jul 2013

Groundwater–surface water interactions, vegetation dependencies and implications for water resources management in the semi-arid Hailiutu River catchment, China – a synthesis

Y. Zhou1, J. Wenninger1,5, Z. Yang3,1, L. Yin2, J. Huang2, L. Hou3, X. Wang3, D. Zhang4, and S. Uhlenbrook1,5 Y. Zhou et al.
  • 1UNSCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, P.O. Box 3015, 2601 DA, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Xi'an Center of Geological Survey, China Geological Survey No. 438, Youyidong Road, Xi'an, 710054, China
  • 3China University of Geosciences, Xueyuan Road 29, Beijing, 100083, China
  • 4Hohai University, Xikang Road 1, Nanjing, 210098, China
  • 5Delft University of Technology, Water Resources Section, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA, Delft, the Netherlands

Abstract. During the last decades, large-scale land use changes took place in the Hailiutu River catchment, a semi-arid area in northwest China. These changes had significant impacts on the water resources in the area. Insights into groundwater and surface water interactions and vegetation-water dependencies help to understand these impacts and formulate sustainable water resources management policies. In this study, groundwater and surface water interactions were identified using the baseflow index at the catchment scale, and hydraulic and water temperature methods as well as event hydrograph separation techniques at the sub-catchment scale. The results show that almost 90% of the river discharge consists of groundwater. Vegetation dependencies on groundwater were analysed from the relationship between the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and groundwater depth at the catchment scale and along an ecohydrogeological cross-section, and by measuring the sap flow of different plants, soil water contents and groundwater levels at different research sites. The results show that all vegetation types, i.e. trees (willow (Salix matsudana) and poplar (Populus simonii), bushes (salix – Salix psammophila), and agricultural crops (maize – Zea mays)), depend largely on groundwater as the source for transpiration. The comparative analysis indicates that maize crops use the largest amount of water, followed by poplar trees, salix bushes, and willow trees. For sustainable water use with the objective of satisfying the water demand for socio-economical development and to prevent desertification and ecological impacts on streams, more water-use-efficient crops such as sorghum, barley or millet should be promoted to reduce the consumptive water use. Willow trees should be used as wind-breaks in croplands and along roads, and drought-resistant and less water-use intensive plants (for instance native bushes) should be used to vegetate sand dunes.