The contribution of Chinas groundwater

After the emergence of the tube well, and diesel and electric pumping technology, the role of groundwater rapidly grew in importance for all uses (Wang et al.,

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Average depth to water (m) Fig. 3.3. Average depth to water in 2004. (From authors' survey in 2004.)

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Average depth to water (m) Fig. 3.3. Average depth to water in 2004. (From authors' survey in 2004.)

2005). In total, the use of groundwater rose from almost zero in the 1950s to 57 billion cubic meters annually in the 1970s. After the rural economic reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s (which, among other things, shifted income and control rights from the collective to the individual household), groundwater use continued to rise, reaching 75 billion cubic meters in the 1980s and more than 100 billion cubic meters after 2000 (Ministry of Land Resources, 2005).8 As the use of groundwater rose nationally, its share in the nation's water supply also rose (from almost nothing in the 1950s to a major fraction now). Across China, groundwater currently supplies about 20% of China's water. However, this amount is unevenly distributed. In southern China, groundwater comprises approximately 14% of water supply; in northern China it supplies 49%. From this point of view, the rise of the accessibility of groundwater has certainly played an important role in the emergence of northern China's regional economy.

Although the importance of groundwater has risen for all uses, it is likely that, as with water resources in general, groundwater resources are being increasingly allocated for non-agricultural uses.9 Unfortunately, China does not systematically collect data on water allocation to economic uses by type of water resource. As a consequence, all we know are the shares of total water resources that are going for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses. Since much of the increase in water use over the last 20 years has come from groundwater, we believe it is safe to assume that the share of groundwater being allocated to domestic and industrial uses follows a somewhat similar pattern to that followed by water resource use in general. Although in 1978, only 1% of China's water use was allocated for domestic use, by 2002 about 11% of water went for domestic users (Table 3.1). The use of water for industry also rose from 14% in 1978 to more than 21% in 2002. Although the share of water used in agriculture has fallen (from 85% in 1978 to 68% in 2002), it is still the largest water user.

Table 3.1. Uses of water resources in China, 1978 to 2002. (From Ministry of Water Resources, 2002.)

Domestic (%)

Industrial (%)

Agriculture (%)

Total water resources













Groundwater resources

1 997




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