3 Takeaways From CEWP’s 2019 Groundwater Policy Dialogue

By Yuanchao Xu 19 August, 2019

CWR's Xu shares the latest on groundwater policies & tech from the forum in Jinan

Groundwater management is key in China's regulatory framework for water management; 21 provinces suffer from over-exploitation of which Northern China accounts for 99%
Economics matter to water saving policies - experts say a high transferred water price may lead to groundwater over-exploitation elsewhere & a water quotas are more efficient than price control
New surveying & monitoring tech like SkyTEM could also help improve groundwater management; other topics were raised e.g. urban water consumption of 100L/px/day was seen as a realistic target

On 29 June 2019, the Rural Water and Food Security department of the China Europe Water Platform (CEWP) held the Groundwater Policy Dialogue on Water Saving Groundwater Quantity Management in Jinan, Shandong Province.

Attendees were a mix of experts including senior officials from China’s Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), Shandong County staff and overseas scholars. Through presentations (including China Water Risk) and lively discussions, the latest policies and ideas on groundwater were discussed. Topics ranged from policy to technology and public awareness to scientific development. Below are our three key takeaways.

1. Importance of groundwater management front & centre with actions on the way

Presentations from two MWR officials provided the overview of China’s current regulatory framework for water conservation and measures for groundwater protection and treatment.

The first MWR official, Dr. Jiangong Zhang  shared details on water saving policy systems and key actions for water conservation, such as the dual control of total amount used and the intensity of water use.

21 China provinces suffer from groundwater over-exploitation, of which Northern China accounts for 99%

The second MWR official, Dr. Yifan Huang  presented on China’s severe groundwater over-exploitation. According to Dr. Huang, 21 provinces in China are suffering from groundwater over-exploitation – to varying degrees – of which Northern China accounts for 99%


Dr. Huang also shared the main measures for groundwater protection and treatment being used in China now. Key points mentioned include:

  • The formulation of ‘The National Plan for Groundwater Utilisation and Protection’;
  • The delimitation of forbidden and restricted zones for groundwater exploitation;
  • Conduct the comprehensive governance of groundwater over-exploitation in North China;
  • Use economic approaches for groundwater protection;
  • Groundwater dynamic monitoring; and
  • The supervision and review scheme for groundwater management.

2. Economics key in optimising water saving policies

The economy runs on water (see our Big Picture for more). Thus, economic potential is strongly affected by the local water resources. Economic policies and pricing in turn impact water resources.  Water pricing is always a key factor in improving the water use mix, as well as the top concern for high water consuming industries.

Professor Fulin Li, Deputy Dean of Water Resources Research Institute of Shandong Province, spoke to his research on the industrial water pricing scheme of Zouping county in Shandong. The research provided the water price analysis based on different water sources and concluded that the high transferred water price (mainly from the Yellow river) may partly contribute to the high groundwater over-exploitation in Zouping.

Research shows that the high transferred water price (mainly from the Yellow river) partly contributes to the high groundwater over-exploitation in Zouping

CWR’s Yuanchao Xu was next up to speak on this topic. In addition to presenting on the impact of water on the economy and risk for investors, he dived into recent hot topics such as the trade war and the Jiangsu chemical plant explosion.

Dr Zhong from CAS, concluded that water quotas are a more efficient way to reach the 2030 water planning targets than price control

Dr Shuai Zhong from Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) then shared his research on quantity and price control mechanisms for optimising water saving policies. Importantly, using the Social Accounting Metric (SAM) and the Computable General Equilibrium with Dynamic Process (CGE), he concluded that the quantity control (water quotas) is a more efficient way to reach the 2030 water planning targets than price control.

3. New surveying & monitoring tools are improving groundwater management

Some overseas scientists have also shared their updates on the latest surveying and monitoring technologies and devices. Dr. Grombacher from Aarhus University presented new geophysical surveying tools: SkyTEM & Apsu, which are able to map hydrogeological structures and quantify land properties.

New geophysical surveying tools e.g. SkyTEM & Apsu, can help by mapping hydrogeological structures & quantify land properties

Yu Li from ETH Zürich introduced a red-line (Chinese three red lines policy, see more here) based decision support system for groundwater management and corresponding case study in Guantao, North China Plain.

Also, there is a new red-line (China’s Three Red Line policy) based decision support system

Apart from groundwater, other broader water saving topics were also discussed on the forum. Useful recommendations were drawn including:

  • Urban water consumption of 100 litres/person/day is a realistic target;
  • Awareness raising and education on the value and scarcity of water enhances acceptance of water saving measures at all ages and levels of society;
  • Managed aquifer recharge and improved quality of inter-basin transfers are efficient approaches to reduce groundwater recovery costs;
  • Water fee and tax collection is best done by outsourcing to the private sector etc.; and
  • Some field experiences have also shown that farmers’ cooperation is of great importance to water saving and monitoring systems.

All the suggestions from the forum will be compiled in the “Road to Recovery Part I Groundwater Quantity Management” (White Paper) and a corresponding policy brief will be presented at the 2019 CEWP Annual Conference 8 in November 2019 in Portugal.

Further Reading

  • 8 Asia Water Risks: Here Today & Here To Stay In Asia – Damaging typhoons, life & business disrupting water outages and threatening sea level rise… China Water Risk review’s 8 water threats too great to miss in Asia from just the past 3 years
  • Hot, Thirsty, Sweaty & Wet: HK’s Future Down The Drain? – China Water Risk’s Woody Chan & Debra Tan look beyond current tensions and see very real threats to Hong Kong’s future from climate change. Get ready for a hot, thirsty, sweaty & wet future
  • Climate Change, Groundwater & Agriculture In India – The hidden risks of groundwater are clear in India as it is key for the country’s food security and already is largely over extracted. What can India do? Dr Aditi Mukherji from the ICIMOD, shares ways forward
  • Going Dutch! Smart Drinking Water Networks – Gondwana, an optimisation tool equipped with evolutionary algorithms, adds a nervous system to make drinking water networks ‘smart’. See how from Ina Vertommen, Dr Karen van Laarhoven, Dr Mirjam Blokker & Dr Peter van Thienen from KWR
  • Environmental Watering In The Murray-Darling Basin – Megan McLeod from the Alliance for Water Stewardship explores how the Renmark Irrigation Trust benefits the Murray-Darling Basin by providing environmental watering, enhancing biodiversity and promoting tourism
  • Key Water Policies 2018-2019 – Haven’t been following China’s environment & water-related policies? Get on top of them now with China Water Risk’s review, including China’s first Soil Ten Law & renewable energy quotas
  • China’s Water Resource Tax Expansion – China’s water resource tax pilot has expanded to 9 provinces including key ones like Beijing & Tianjin. China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu explores the successes of the initial Hebei pilot and why the additional provinces may benefit
  • 3 Takeaways From Aquatech China 2018 – 4 years on, China Water Risk is again presenting at the Industrial Water Leaders Forum at Aquatech China. Our Dawn McGregor shares key takeaways from the 2018 events and how they compare to 2014
  • Groundwater Shortage Calls For Urgent Action – China’s groundwater is overextracted and this needs immediate tackling. Prof Asit K Biswas & Kris Hartley from the Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy explore solutions, from desalination to sponge cities
  • Fast Fashion: Sucking Aquifers Dry? – Groundwater is over-extracted to grow cotton. As the world’s largest importer of cotton, is it China’s fault? Or is fast fashion to blame? China Water Risk’s Tan explores trends in the growth across major brands, China’s imports & global cotton production
Yuanchao Xu
Author: Yuanchao Xu
Yuanchao uses his analytical proficiencies towards the assessment and visualization of water risks for China Water Risk. Prior to joining, Yuanchao was based in Europe completing the Erasmus Mundus Master Program where he specialsed in hydro-informatics and water management. He applied his skills in climate forecasting and water resource modelling to the EUPORIAS project with DHI (Danish Hydraulic Institute) which resulted in a conference paper on seasonal climate forecasting. Building on this work, he went on to develop hyfo, an open-source R programme for climate scientists and modellers to analyse and visualize data. Yuanchao’s bachelor degree was from the China Agricultural University where he specialized in heat energy and power engineering. During his time there, he also patented a testing instrument for hydraulic machinery. He has studied and worked in Beijing, Nice, Newcastle and Copenhagen.
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