Hulun Lake, China's fifth-largest inland lake, experienced severe declines in water level in the period of 2000-2010. This has prompted concerns whether the lake is drying up gradually. A multi-million US dollar engineering project to construct a water channel to transfer part of the river flow from a nearby river to maintain the water level was completed in August 2010. This study aimed to advance the understanding of the key processes controlling the lake water level variation over the last five decades, as well as investigate the impact of the river transfer engineering project on the water level. A water balance model was developed to investigate the lake water level variations over the last five decades, using hydrological and climatic data as well as satellite-based measurements and results from land surface modelling. The investigation reveals that the severe reduction of river discharge (-364±64 mm/yr, ∼70% of the five-decade average) into the lake was the key factor behind the decline of the lake water level between 2000 and 2010. The decline of river discharge was due to the reduction of total runoff from the lake watershed. This was a result of the reduction of soil moisture due to the decrease of precipitation (-49±45 mm/yr) over this period. The water budget calculation suggests that the groundwater component from the surrounding lake area as well as surface run off from the un-gauged area surrounding the lake contributed ∼ net 210 Mm3/yr (equivalent to ∼ 100 mm/yr) water inflows into the lake. The results also show that the water diversion project did prevent a further water level decline of over 0.5 m by the end of 2012. Overall, the monthly water balance model gave an excellent prediction of the lake water level fluctuation over the last five decades and can be a useful tool to manage lake water resources in the future.