The assessment of surface water resources (SWRs) in the semi‐arid Yongding River Basin is vital as the basin has been in a continuous state of serious water shortage over the last 20 years. In this study, the first version of the geomorphology‐based hydrological model (GBHM) has been applied to the basin over a long period of time (1956–2000) as part of an SWR assessment. This was done by simulating the natural hydrological processes in the basin. The model was first evaluated at 18 stream gauges during the period from 1990 to 1992 to evaluate both the daily streamflows and the annual SWRs using the land use data for 1990. The model was further validated in 2000 with the annual SWRs at seven major stream gauges. Second, the verified model was used in a 45‐year simulation to estimate the annual SWRs for the basin from 1956 to 2000 using the 1990 land use data. An empirical correlation between the annual precipitation and the annual SWRs was developed for the basin. Spatial distribution of the long‐term mean runoff coefficients for all 177 sub‐basins was also achieved. Third, an additional 10‐year (1991–2000) simulation was performed with the 2000 land use data to investigate the impact of land use changes from 1990 to 2000 on the long‐term annual SWRs. The results suggest that the 10‐year land use changes have led to a decrease of 8·3 × 107 m3 (7·9% of total) for the 10‐year mean annual SWRs in the simulation. To our knowledge, this work is the first attempt to assess the long‐term SWRs and the impact of land use change in the semi‐arid Yongding River Basin using a semi‐distributed hillslope hydrological model.