Articles | Volume 19, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 2261–2273, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-2261-2015

Special issue: Catchment co-evolution: space–time patterns and functional...

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 2261–2273, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-2261-2015

Research article 12 May 2015

Research article | 12 May 2015

Evolution of the human–water relationships in the Heihe River basin in the past 2000 years

Z. Lu2,1, Y. Wei3, H. Xiao1, S. Zou1, J. Xie4, J. Ren1, and A. Western3 Z. Lu et al.
  • 1Key Laboratory of Ecohydrology of Inland River Basin, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Science, Lanzhou, China
  • 2University of the Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing, China
  • 3Australia China Joint Research Centre on River Basin management, Department of Infrastructure Engineering, the University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
  • 4Key Laboratory of Desert and Desertification, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Science, Lanzhou, China

Abstract. This paper quantitatively analyzed the evolution of human–water relationships in the Heihe River basin of northern China over the past 2000 years by reconstructing the catchment water balance by partitioning precipitation into evapotranspiration and runoff. The results provided the basis for investigating the impacts of societies on hydrological systems. Based on transition theory and the rates of changes of the population, human water consumption and the area of natural oases, the evolution of human–water relationships can be divided into four stages: predevelopment (206 BC–AD 1368), take-off (AD 1368–1949), acceleration (AD 1949–2000), and the start of a rebalancing between human and ecological needs (post AD 2000). Our analysis of the evolutionary process revealed that there were large differences in the rate and scale of changes and the period over which they occurred. The transition of the human–water relationship had no fixed pattern. This understanding of the dynamics of the human–water relationship will assist policy makers in identifying management practices that require improvement by understanding how today's problems were created in the past, which may lead to more sustainable catchment management in the future.

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Short summary
This paper quantitatively analyzed the evolution of human-water relationships in the Heihe River basin over the past 2000 years by reconstructing the catchment water balance. The results provided the basis for investigating the impacts of human societies on hydrological systems. The evolutionary processes of human-water relationships can be divided into four stages: predevelopment, take-off, acceleration, and rebalancing. And the transition of the human-water relationship had no fixed pattern.