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Technical Note: Hydrological Modeling with SWAT in a Monsoon-Driven Environment: Experience from the Western Ghats, India

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 54(5): 1783-1790. (doi: 10.13031/2013.39846) @2011
Authors:   P. D. Wagner, S. Kumar, P. Fiener, K. Schneider
Keywords:   Data-scarce environment, India, Monsoon, SWAT, Water management

Monsoon regions are characterized by a pronounced seasonality of rainfall. Model-based analysis of water resources in such an environment has to take account of the specific natural conditions and the associated water management. Especially, plant phenology, which is predominately water driven, and water management, which aims at reducing water shortage, are of primary importance. The aim of this study is to utilize the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) in a monsoon-driven region in the Indian Western Ghats by using mainly generally available input data and to evaluate the model performance under these conditions. The test site analyzed in this study is the meso-scale catchment of the Mula and Mutha Rivers (2036 km2) upstream of the city of Pune, India. Most input data were derived from remote sensing products or from international archives. Forest growth in SWAT was modified to account for the seasonal limitation of water availability. Moreover, a dam management scheme was derived by combining general dam management rules with reservoir storage capacity and estimated monthly outflow rates from river discharge. With these model adaptations, SWAT produced reasonable results when compared to mean daily discharge measured in three of four subcatchments during the rainy season (Nash-Sutcliffe efficiencies 0.58, 0.63, and 0.68). The weakest performance was found at the gauge downstream of four dams, where the simple dam management scheme failed to match the combined management effects of the four dams on river discharge (Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency 0.10). Water yield was underestimated by the model, especially in the smallest (headwater) subcatchment (99 km2). Due to the absence of rain gauges in these headwater areas, the extrapolation errors of rainfall estimates based on measurements at lower elevations are expected to be large. Moreover, there is some indication that evapotranspiration might be underestimated. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that using generally available data in SWAT model studies of monsoon-driven catchments provides reasonable results, if key characteristics of monsoon regions are accounted for and processes are parameterized accordingly.

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