Changes in rainfall regime during the last five decades over the West African Sahel have significantly modified the hydrological regime of many rivers with a significant impact on water resources. In this study, the main hydrological processes on the Nakanbe watershed in Burkina Faso are described with two hydrological models: GR2M (lumped and monthly model) and ORCHIDEE (ORganising Carbon and Hydrology In Dynamic EcosystEms) (distributed and half hourly model). Both models were calibrated on the watershed from observed runoff data at Wayen outlet (area of 22,000 km2) for the 1978–1999 period. The mean annual hydrological balance components on the watershed over this period are composed of about 4% of runoff, 10% of groundwater recharge and 86% of actual evapotranspiration for both models. An assessment of the hydrological impacts of the changes in rainfall regime simulated by five regional climate models shows some discrepancies. The hydrological simulations show that the hydrological impacts on the water balance of the watershed come mainly from the changes in rainfall field with regard to the frequency and the intensity of rain events. Compared to the decrease in frequency, it appears that the decrease in the intensity of rain events is much more prejudicial to runoff and groundwater recharge.