The effect of drought on groundwater heads and discharge is often complex and poorly understood. Therefore the propagation of a drought from groundwater recharge to discharge and the influence of aquifer characteristics on the propagation was analysed by tracking a drought in recharge through a linear reservoir. The recharge was defined as a sinusoid function with a period of 1 year. The decrease in recharge owing to drought was simulated by multiplying the recharge during 1 year with a drought fraction between 0 and 1, which represents a decrease in the recharge of 100 to 0%, respectively. The droughts were identified using the threshold level approach, with a threshold that is constant in time. For this case analytical formulations were derived, which express the drought duration and deficit in the groundwater discharge in terms of the decrease in recharge, the reservoir coefficient that characterizes aquifer properties and the height of the threshold level. The results showed that the delay in the groundwater system caused a shift of the main part of the decrease in recharge from the high-flow to the low-flow period. This resulted in an increase in drought deficit for discharge compared with the drought deficit for recharge. Also the development of multiyear droughts caused an increase in drought deficit. The attenuation in the groundwater system caused a decrease in drought deficit. In most cases the net effect of these processes was an increase of drought deficit as a result of the propagation through groundwater. Only for small droughts the deficit decreased from recharge to discharge. The amount of increase or decrease depends on the reservoir coefficient and the severity of the drought. Under most conditions a maximum in the drought deficit occurred for a reservoir coefficient of around 200 days. Copyright (C) 2003 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.