Why is the Arkavathy River drying? A multiple-hypothesis approach in a data-scarce region
Abstract. 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.