An approach is presented for the hydrogeological conceptualisation of karst systems. The KARSYS approach helps hydrogeologists working in karst regions to address in a pragmatic and efficient way the three following questions. (1) Where does the water of a karst spring come from? (2) Through which underground routes does it flow? (3) What are the groundwater reserves and where are they? It is based on a three dimensional model of the carbonate aquifer geometry (3D geological model) coupled to a series of simple fundamental principles of karst hydraulics. This provides, within a limited effort, a consistent hydrogeological conceptual model of karst flow systems within any investigation area. The level of detail can be adjusted according to the targeted degree of confidence. Two examples of its application are presented; the approach was first applied with a low level of detail on a national scale in order to assess the groundwater reserves in karst aquifers in Switzerland, suggesting a groundwater volume of 120 km3. On a regional scale, it was applied with a higher level of detail to some selected karst systems in order to assess their hydropower potential. The KARSYS approach may provide very useful information for water management improvement in karst regions (vulnerability assessment, impact assessment, water supply, flood hazards, landslides, etc.). It leads, in a very cost-effective manner, to a new and highly didactic representation of karst systems as well as to new concepts concerning the delineation of catchment areas in karst regions.