Articles | Volume 18, issue 5
Research article
08 May 2014
Research article |  | 08 May 2014

China's water sustainability in the 21st century: a climate-informed water risk assessment covering multi-sector water demands

X. Chen, D. Naresh, L. Upmanu, Z. Hao, L. Dong, Q. Ju, J. Wang, and S. Wang

Abstract. China is facing a water resources crisis with growing concerns as to the reliable supply of water for agricultural, industrial and domestic needs. High inter-annual rainfall variability and increasing consumptive use across the country exacerbates the situation further and is a constraint on future development. For water sustainability, it is necessary to examine the differences in water demand and supply and their spatio-temporal distribution in order to quantify the dimensions of the water risk. Here, a detailed quantitative assessment of water risk as measured by the spatial distribution of cumulated deficits for China is presented. Considering daily precipitation and temperature variability over fifty years and the current water demands, risk measures are developed to inform county level water deficits that account for both within-year and across-year variations in climate. We choose political rather than watershed boundaries since economic activity and water use are organized by county and the political process is best informed through that unit. As expected, the risk measures highlight North China Plain counties as highly water stressed. Regions with high water stress have high inter-annual variability in rainfall and now have depleted groundwater aquifers. The stress components due to agricultural, industrial and domestic water demands are illustrated separately to assess the vulnerability of particular sectors within the country to provide a basis for targeted policy analysis for reducing water stress.