Articles | Volume 19, issue 1
Review article
07 Jan 2015
Review article |  | 07 Jan 2015

On inclusion of water resource management in Earth system models – Part 1: Problem definition and representation of water demand

A. Nazemi and H. S. Wheater

Abstract. Human activities have caused various changes to the Earth system, and hence the interconnections between human activities and the Earth system should be recognized and reflected in models that simulate Earth system processes. One key anthropogenic activity is water resource management, which determines the dynamics of human–water interactions in time and space and controls human livelihoods and economy, including energy and food production. There are immediate needs to include water resource management in Earth system models. First, the extent of human water requirements is increasing rapidly at the global scale and it is crucial to analyze the possible imbalance between water demands and supply under various scenarios of climate change and across various temporal and spatial scales. Second, recent observations show that human–water interactions, manifested through water resource management, can substantially alter the terrestrial water cycle, affect land–atmospheric feedbacks and may further interact with climate and contribute to sea-level change. Due to the importance of water resource management in determining the future of the global water and climate cycles, the World Climate Research Program's Global Energy and Water Exchanges project (WRCP-GEWEX) has recently identified gaps in describing human–water interactions as one of the grand challenges in Earth system modeling (GEWEX, 2012). Here, we divide water resource management into two interdependent elements, related firstly to water demand and secondly to water supply and allocation. In this paper, we survey the current literature on how various components of water demand have been included in large-scale models, in particular land surface and global hydrological models. Issues of water supply and allocation are addressed in a companion paper. The available algorithms to represent the dominant demands are classified based on the demand type, mode of simulation and underlying modeling assumptions. We discuss the pros and cons of available algorithms, address various sources of uncertainty and highlight limitations in current applications. We conclude that current capability of large-scale models to represent human water demands is rather limited, particularly with respect to future projections and coupled land–atmospheric simulations. To fill these gaps, the available models, algorithms and data for representing various water demands should be systematically tested, intercompared and improved. In particular, human water demands should be considered in conjunction with water supply and allocation, particularly in the face of water scarcity and unknown future climate.

Short summary
Activities related to water resource management perturb terrestrial water cycle with hydrologic and land-atmospheric implications. By defining water resource management as the integration of water demand with water supply and allocation, this paper critically reviews current schemes for representing human water demands in models relevant to Earth system modelling. We conclude that current representations are limited due to uncertainties in data support, demand algorithms and large-scale models.