China plans regional caps to conserve water

The country’s per capita water resources are less than one-third of the global average.

China plans to develop a stricter water conservation framework by introducing regional usage caps and water rights trading schemes amid depleting resources, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.

In a notice Tuesday, the ministry said that specifying regional water availability caps would be high on its agenda, and be used as a basis to define initial water access rights for regions before implementing water trading. Authorities also vowed to better protect groundwater and improve supervision of regional water withdrawal as part of its conservation plan.

An unequally distributed water resources network has resulted in severe water shortage problems for more than one-third of China’s territory, according to the World Resources Institute. China’s per capita water resources stood at only 2,100 cubic meters in 2016, less than one-third of the global average.

The country has tightened its conservation regulation — referred to as the “three red lines” — to relieve water stress over the last decade, including capping the country’s annual water consumption, improving irrigation efficiency, and protecting water sources and catchment areas.

China has set an annual water usage cap of 640 billion cubic meters by 2025, down from the 670 billion cubic-meter target in the previous five-year plan that ended in 2020.

Tuesday’s announcement noted that the ministry plans to establish a “complete and uniformly defined” water rights trading scheme. China has been piloting small-scale water trading schemes since 2014 in provinces with possible water scarcity.

However, Huang Guoru, professor of hydraulic engineering at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, believes that the idea of water as a tradable product remains “controversial” to many. He said that Tuesday’s notice reinforces the country’s commitments to stricter water management.

“The purpose is to heighten the role of water usage in the design of economic and social development,” Huang told Sixth Tone.

Source: Sixth Tone, Feb 11, 2022.