A process‐based approach to attribution of historical streamflow decline in a data‐scarce and human‐dominated watershed.
Human activities have resulted in rapid hydrological change around the world, in many cases producing shifts in the dominant hydrological processes, confounding predictions, and complicating effective management and planning. Identifying and characterizing such changes in hydrological processes is therefore a globally relevant problem, one that is particularly challenging in sparsely monitored environments. We develop a novel, process‐based approach for attribution of hydrological change in such scenarios, and apply the approach to the TG Halli watershed outside Bangalore, India, where streamflow has declined considerably over the last 50 years. The approach consists of (1) employing a range of field instrumentation and experiments to identify contemporary streamflow generation mechanisms, (2) using these observations to constrain our understanding and generate hypotheses pertaining to historical changes, and (3) evaluating these hypotheses with a range of evidence including proxies for historical hydrological processes. The body of evidence in the TG Halli watershed indicates the historical presence and subsequent loss of a shallow groundwater table that previously discharged to the stream, meaning that groundwater depletion is the most likely driver of streamflow decline. These findings present a viable path towards improved predictions of future water resources and sustainable water management within the watershed. Our process‐based approach to attribution has the potential to improve understanding of human‐driven hydrologic change in regions with poor monitoring of hydrologic systems.