Greve P., Burek P., Guillaumot L., van Meijgaard E., Aalbers E., Smilovic M., Sperna-Weiland F., Kahil T. & Wada Y.
Environmental Research Letters 18, August 2023
A sufficient freshwater supply is vital for humans, ecosystems, and economies, but anticipated climate and socio-economic change are expected to substantially alter water availability. Across Europe, about two-third of the abstracted freshwater comes from rivers and streams. Various hydrological studies address the resulting need for projections on changes in river discharge. However, those assessments rarely specifically account for the impact of various water withdrawal scenarios during low flow periods. We present here a novel, high-resolution hydrological modeling experiment using pseudo-global warming climate data to investigate the effects of changing water withdrawals under 2 K global warming. Especially in Western and Central Europe the projected impacts on low flows highly depend on the chosen water withdrawal assumption and can severely decrease under the worst case assumptions. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for future water withdrawals in low flow projections, showing that climate-focused impact assessments in near-natural catchments provide only one piece of the anticipated response and do not necessarily reflect changes in heavily managed river basins.