Simulation of River Flow for Downstream Water Allocation in the Heihe River Watershed, Northwest China

  • Chansheng He
  • Lanhui Zhang
  • Li Fu
  • Yi Luo
  • Lanhai Li
  • Carlo DeMarchi


Multiple demands for water for large agricultural irrigation schemes, increasing industrial development, and rapid urban population growth have depleted downstream flows most of the time in the arid Heihe River Watershed, Northwest China, causing shrinking oases and tensions among different water jurisdictions and ethnic groups. To address this pressing issue, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China has issued an executive order to mandate the release of water downstream for ecosystem restoration. This paper describes the adaptation of the Distributed Large Basin Runoff Model to the Heihe Watershed to gain an understanding of the distribution of glacial/snow melt, groundwater, surface runoff, and evapotranspiration in the upper and middle reaches of the watershed. The simulated daily river flows for 1990–2000 show that Qilian Mountain in the upper reach area was the main source of runoff generation in the Heihe Watershed, and annually, the Heihe River discharged about 1 × 109 m3 of water from the middle reach (at Zhengyixia Gage Station) to the lower reach under the normal climatic conditions (with a likelihood of 50 %). These flows are consistent with the State Council’s mandate of delivering 0.95 × 109 m3 water downstream annually. However, the river flow would be significantly less under the dry climatic conditions, making it much more difficult to deliver the mandated amount of water downstream for ecosystem rehabilitation.


Multiple water demands  Distributed large basin runoff model (DLBRM)  The Heihe watershed  Northwest China Water shortage 



Partial support for this research is provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No: 91125010), the National Basic Research Program of Global Change (Grant No. 2010CB951002), and the CAS/SAFEA International Partnership Program for Creative Research Teams of“Ecosystem Processes and Services. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) (Grant No: GJHZ0948 and CXTD-Z2005-2), and Scherer Endowment Fund of Western Michigan University Department of Geography. The data set used in the study is provided by “Environmental & Ecological Science Data Center for West China, National Natural Science Foundation of China” (


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chansheng He
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lanhui Zhang
    • 1
  • Li Fu
    • 3
  • Yi Luo
    • 4
  • Lanhai Li
    • 5
  • Carlo DeMarchi
    • 6
  1. 1.Center for Dryland Water Resources Research and Watershed Sciences, Key Laboratory of Western China’s Environmental Systems (MOE)Lanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Department of GeographyWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Remote Sensing ApplicationsThe Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Institute of Geographical Science and Natural Resources ResearchThe Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and GeographyChinese Academy of SciencesUrumqiPeople’s Republic of China
  6. 6.Department of Geological SciencesCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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