Simulating human impacts on global water resources using VIC-5

Bram Droppers*, Wietse H.P. Franssen, Michelle T.H. Van Vliet, Bart Nijssen, Fulco Ludwig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Questions related to historical and future water resources and scarcity have been addressed by several macroscale hydrological models. One of these models is the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model. However, further model developments were needed to holistically assess anthropogenic impacts on global water resources using VIC. Our study developed VIC-WUR, which extends the VIC model using (1) integrated routing, (2) surface and groundwater use for various sectors (irrigation, domestic, industrial, energy, and livestock), (3) environmental flow requirements for both surface and groundwater systems, and (4) dam operation. Global gridded datasets on sectoral demands were developed separately and used as an input for the VIC-WUR model. Simulated national water withdrawals were in line with reported Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) national annual withdrawals (adjusted R2 > 0.8), both per sector and per source. However, trends in time for domestic and industrial water withdrawal were mixed compared with previous studies. Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) monthly terrestrial water storage anomalies were well represented (global mean root-mean-squared error, RMSE, values of 1.9 and 3.5 mm for annual and interannual anomalies respectively), whereas groundwater depletion trends were overestimated. The implemented anthropogenic impact modules increased simulated streamflow performance for 370 of the 462 anthropogenically impacted Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC) monitoring stations, mostly due to the effects of reservoir operation. An assessment of environmental flow requirements indicates that global water withdrawals have to be severely limited (by 39 %) to protect aquatic ecosystems, especially with respect to groundwater withdrawals. VIC-WUR has potential for studying the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic developments on current and future water resources and sector-specific water scarcity. The additions presented here make the VIC model more suited for fully integrated worldwide water resource assessments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5029-5052
Number of pages24
JournalGeoscientific Model Development
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2020

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