The increasing need for distributed hydrological modelling leads to an intense use of spatially distributed predictions of physically based models, such as TOPMODEL as addressed here. The ability of these models to reproduce the internal behaviour of catchments physically is increasingly tested through field experiments (geochemical investigation, distributed measurements network, etc.). This paper will show that, in the case of TOPMODEL, an implicit approximation remains in the classic derivation of the equations that consists in neglecting the surface of saturated areas with respect to the total surface of the catchment. This simplifying, though unnecessary, approximation leads to a systematic underestimation of the catchment water storage deficit and to divergence in the water budget accounting. This may also significantly change the predicted ratio between subsurface and surface water fluxes in the total discharge. An analytical solution is suggested that leads to water balance accounting which is better defined, and more consistent in comparison with field water storage recording. It is expected that this work will ensure more accurate TOPMODEL predictions, consistent with the assumptions of the model. This will then improve the interpretation of comparisons between results of simulation and field experiments. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.