Increased groundwater extraction leads to the decrease of the extent of wetlands due to the implementation of a water-saving transformation project in an arid irrigation area. The application of integrated mitigation tools and strategies in China have increasing significance. In this study, an integrated approach (SWAT-MODFLOW) was followed; it is based on a soil and water assessment tool (SWAT) coupled with a modular three-dimensional finite difference groundwater model (MODFLOW). Recharge and evaporation values were estimated by SWAT and were then used to simulate groundwater in a MODFLOW model. Calibration (over the years 2000–2010) and validation (over the years 2010–2016) were performed, based on observed groundwater-level data; results showed that the combined SWAT-MODFLOW provides more accurate simulation and prediction of the dynamic changes of surface water and groundwater in irrigation areas than results from individual MODFLOW models. This method was applied to the Yanqi Basin, which is one of the most appropriate arid agricultural basins for modeling lake wetland and groundwater in China. The correlation coefficients (R2
) between the simulated and real groundwater level are 0.96 and 0.91 in SWAT-MODFLOW and MODFLOW, respectively. With the gradual increase in the extraction to 248%, 0.62 × 108
of groundwater discharged into the lake became −2.25 × 108
. The lake level drops 1.3 m compared with the current year, when the groundwater exploitation increases by 10 × 108
/year. Overall, the results of the coupling model offer scientific evidence for agricultural water management and lake recovery, so as to enhance the water use coordination.
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