Articles | Volume 18, issue 8
Research article
25 Aug 2014
Research article |  | 25 Aug 2014

Assessing blue and green water utilisation in wheat production of China from the perspectives of water footprint and total water use

X. C. Cao, P. T. Wu, Y. B. Wang, and X. N. Zhao

Abstract. The aim of this study is to estimate the green and blue water footprint (WF) and the total water use (TWU) of wheat crop in China in both irrigated and rainfed productions. Crop evapotranspiration and water evaporation loss are both considered when calculating the water footprint in irrigated fields. We compared the water use for per-unit product between irrigated and rainfed crops and analyzed the relationship between promoting the yield and conserving water resources. The national total and per-unit-product WF of wheat production in 2010 were approximately 111.5 Gm3 (64.2% green and 35.8% blue) and 0.968 m3 kg−1, respectively. There is a large difference in the water footprint of the per-kilogram wheat product (WFP) among different provinces: the WFP is low in the provinces in and around the Huang–Huai–Hai Plain, while it is relatively high in the provinces south of the Yangtze River and in northwestern China. The major portion of WF (80.9%) comes from irrigated farmland, and the remaining 19.1% is rainfed. Green water dominates the area south of the Yangtze River, whereas low green water proportions are found in the provinces located in northern China, especially northwestern China. The national TWU and total water use of the per-kilogram wheat product (TWUP) are 142.5 Gm3 and 1.237 m3 kg−1, respectively, containing approximately 21.7% blue water percolation (BWp). The values of WFP for irrigated (WFPI) and rainfed (WFPR) crops are 0.911 and 1.202 m3 kg−1, respectively. Irrigation plays an important role in food production, promoting the wheat yield by 170% and reducing the WFP by 24% compared to those of rainfed wheat production. Due to the low irrigation efficiency, more water is needed per kilogram in irrigated farmland in many arid regions, such as the Xinjiang, Ningxia and Gansu Provinces. We divided the 30 provinces of China into three categories according to the relationship between the TWUPI (TWU for per-unit product in irrigated farmland) and TWUPR (TWU for per-unit product in rainfed farmland): (I) TWUPI < TWUPR, (II) TWUPI = TWUPR, and (III) TWUPI > TWUPR. Category II, which contains the major wheat-producing areas in the North China Plain, produces nearly 75% of the wheat of China. The double benefits of conserving water and promoting production can be achieved by irrigating wheat in Category I provinces. Nevertheless, the provinces in this category produce only 1.1% of the national wheat yield.

Please read the corrigendum first before accessing the article.


The requested paper has a corresponding corrigendum published. Please read the corrigendum first before downloading the article.