Groundwater Depletion –

Provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities

China Background

In China’s parched North, the deficit of surface water has led regions to overexploitation of groundwater resources, which in turn has resulted in the progressive depletion of groundwater reserves. Until groundwater withdrawals are managed and kept to sustainable levels, assets and operations may be threatened at the high cost of depending on a scarce & irreplaceable resource. China’s Water Sources North-South Divide
This map shows trends in water storage. Decreasing water storage is mainly due to groundwater depletion and glaciers melt.
This map shows groundwater reliance, defined as the share of freshwater use withdrawn from groundwater sources.
The North China aquifer is heavily reliant on groundwater & suffers from falling water storage. And yet it serves 11% of the country’s population, 13% of its agricultural production, and 70% of its coal production.

Groundwater depletion has far-reaching consequences:

  • Contributes to the drying up of lakes & wetlands
  • Increases salinity of groundwater supplies
  • Gives rise to subsidence, which damages infrastructure
Of the 655 cities in China, >400 rely on groundwater and >50 cities in China suffer from land subsidence, including Beijing, Tianjin & Shanghai. A 2009 survey showed that 79,000 km² of China’s land surface has already sunk by >20cm. What’s more, groundwater pollution exacerbates over-extraction.
China is adopting holistic policies to limit groundwater extraction. Water permits need to be obtained in order to withdraw groundwater and a minimum water resource tax rate of RMB 0.2-4/m³ for groundwater has been applied to certain provinces. Also, by setting a target for 80% of Chinese cities to meet sponge-city standards by 2030, China is aiming to reduce urban reliance on groundwater.
First-ever National Plan on Groundwater Pollution Control, issued in 2011, set aside RMB35 bn to tackle groundwater pollution while also limiting access to groundwater. Moreover, the Water Ten plan aims to control the proportion of Grade V+ groundwater (worst quality) at 15%. State of Ecology & Environment War on Pollution

Further reading – Groundwater Under Pressure

Water Ten Plan sets strict groundwater targets. Hu on why the next 5 years are key to stabalize current dire situation
  • ‘bad’ & ‘very badly’ polluted groundwater increased from 2011-2014 from 14.7% to 16.1%; by 2020 target: 15%
  • ‘Water Ten Plan’ targets coal & agri to protect groundwater; expect changes with new sector targets
  • Groundwater depletion in dire state; watersheds, North China Plain & cities all at risk; expect more action from govt

Sources: Rodell et al. “Emerging Trends in Global Freshwater Availability”, Nature, 557, Pages 651–659, 2018; China Statistical Yearbook 2017; National Land Subsidence Prevention & Control Plan (2011-2020); China Water Risk article “Groundwater Shortage Calls For Urgent Action” 13, July 2017;  Measures for Expanding the Pilot Project of Water Resources Tax Reform 2017; Water Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan 2015; National Plan on Groundwater Pollution Control 2011