Moving Water on a Malleable Planet - Large Scale Inter-basin Hydrological Transfers Now and in the Future


Humans have been reorganizing the land surface components of the hydrological cycle for some time. One of the more hydrologically important changes are diversions of river water from one watershed to another. These are often initiated to mitigate water shortages in neighboring drainage basins or to increase the output of hydroelectric energy production. We describe a database of macro-scale inter-basin hydrological transfers covering all parts of the globe. The focus is on large-scale changes in the flow of water from one drainage basin to another or between sub-basins within the same watershed. Current counts from the database show several hundred identified diversions across five continents. Engineering works under construction as well as those that have been planned or proposed were included. Large projects now under construction in China (South-North Water Transfer Project) and planned in India (Himalayan and Peninsular components of the National River Linking Project) represent some of largest human created movements of water on the planet. We also explore the implications of the more speculative plans that have emerged over the last half century such as the Northern River Reversal, designed to deliver water from Siberia to Central Asia, and the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) project linking high latitude rivers in Alaska and Canada to areas of the American southwest. The database has allowed us to explore, through hydrological modeling, the global impact of these engineering works. We also explore scenarios of changes in future water resources by looking at the inter-basin transfers against a suite of anticipated climate change from model output driven by the IPCC AR5 data set.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type

Conference Proceeding