The expansion of reservoirs to cope with droughts and water shortages is hotly debated in many places around the world. We argue that there are two counterintuitive dynamics that should be considered in this debate: supply–demand cycles and reservoir effects. Supply–demand cycles describe instances where increasing water supply enables higher water demand, which can quickly offset the initial benefits of reservoirs. Reservoir effects refer to cases where over-reliance on reservoirs increases vulnerability, and therefore increases the potential damage caused by droughts. Here we illustrate these counterintuitive dynamics with global and local examples, and discuss policy and research implications.

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G.D.B. was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) within the project ‘HydroSocialExtremes: Uncovering the Mutual Shaping of Hydrological Extremes and Society’, ERC Consolidator Grant No. 771678. N.W. acknowledges the funding from NWO 016.Veni.181.049. S.R. and A.F.V.L. were supported by the NWO project ‘Adding the human dimension to drought’ (2004/08338/ALW). This work was developed within the activities of the working group on Drought in the Anthropocene of the Panta Rhei research initiative of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS).

Author information


  1. Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

    • Giuliano Di Baldassarre
    •  & Korbinian Breinl
  2. Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science, CNDS, Uppsala, Sweden

    • Giuliano Di Baldassarre
    •  & Korbinian Breinl
  3. Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Niko Wanders
  4. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, USA

    • Amir AghaKouchak
  5. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, USA

    • Amir AghaKouchak
  6. Centre for Water Resource Systems, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria

    • Linda Kuil
  7. School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

    • Sally Rangecroft
    •  & Anne F. Van Loon
  8. Water and Climate Risk Department, VU Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • Ted I. E. Veldkamp
  9. School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

    • Margaret Garcia
  10. Environmental Sciences Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Pieter R. van Oel


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G.D.B. conceived the study and wrote the manuscript. N.W. developed the global analysis of reservoir storage analysis and water demand. A.A., L.K., S.R., T.I.E.V., M.G., P.R.v.O., K.B. and A.F.V.L. contributed data or insights, discussed the argument and edited the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Giuliano Di Baldassarre.

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