Assessing the long-term impact of climatic variability and human activities on the water resources of a meso-scale Mediterranean catchment

Lila Collet, Denis Ruelland, Valerie Borrell-Estupina, Eric Servat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This article addresses the critical need for a better quantitative understanding of how water resources from the Hérault River catchment in France have been influenced by climate variability and the increasing pressure of human activity over the last 50 years. A method is proposed for assessing the relative impacts of climate and growing water demand on the decrease in discharge observed at various gauging stations in the periods 1961–1980 and 1981–2010. An annual water balance at the basin scale was calculated first, taking into account precipitation, actual evapotranspiration, water withdrawals and water discharge. Next, the evolution of the seasonal variability in hydroclimatic conditions and water withdrawals was studied. The catchment was then divided into zones according to the main geographical characteristics to investigate the heterogeneity of the climatic and human dynamics. This delimitation took into account the distribution of climate, topography, lithology, land cover and water uses, as well as the availability of discharge series. At the area scale, annual water balances were calculated to understand the internal changes that occurred in the catchment between both past periods. The decrease in runoff can be explained by the decrease inwinter precipitation in the upstream areas and by the increase during summer in both water withdrawals and evapotranspiration in the downstream areas, mainly due to the increase in temperature. Thus, water stress increased in summer by 35%. This work is the first step of a larger research project to assess possible future changes in the capacity to satisfy water demand in the Hérault River catchment, using a model that combines hydrological processes and water demand.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1457-1469
Number of pages13
JournalHydrological Sciences Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Climate variability
  • Mediterranean catchment
  • Water uses
  • water balance
  • long-term impact


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