IWA Publishing

Implications of climate change for water resources development in the Ganges basin


This paper presents the first basin-wide assessment of the potential impact of climate change on the hydrology and production of the Ganges system, undertaken as part of the World Bank's Ganges Strategic Basin Assessment. A series of modeling efforts – downscaling of climate projections, water balance calculations, hydrological simulation and economic optimization – inform the assessment. We find that projections of precipitation across the basin, obtained from 16 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-recognized General Circulation Models are highly variable, and lead to considerable differences in predictions of mean flows in the main stem of the Ganges and its tributaries. Despite uncertainties in predicted future flows, they are not, however, outside the range of natural variability in this basin, except perhaps at the tributary or sub-catchment levels. We also find that the hydropower potential associated with a set of 23 large dams in Nepal remains high across climate models, largely because annual flow in the tributary rivers greatly exceeds the storage capacities of these projects even in dry scenarios. The additional storage and smoothing of flows provided by these infrastructures translates into enhanced water availability in the dry season, but the relative value of this water for the purposes of irrigation in the Gangetic plain, and for low flow augmentation to Bangladesh under climate change, is unclear.

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