Anticipation of Water Use Trend

Table 2 shows that from 1949 to 1980, water use quadrupled. During that time, the population nearly doubled (1.78) and the total grain output tripled. In the transitional period from 1980 to the present, China entered an era of economic reform, and the water use trend grew slowly to sustain the major change that the country's economy was experiencing. This resulted from structural changes in water use and improvements in water use efficiency. Compared to other developed countries, China has considerable potential to raise water use efficiency. The integrated index of water use efficiency in China was US$2/m3 in 2000 (US$13.1 for the United States in 1995). Water use for irrigation has remained unchanged (350 billion m3) for more than 20 years since 1980, and water use efficiency currently is only 0.45, so there is much room for improvement.

The structural change of water use may also accelerate. Under the process of structure reform and the development of a market-oriented economy, water use tends to meet the needs of those sectors that bring more economic benefit, so the gradual reduction of the proportion of agricultural water use to total water use is acceptable. Meanwhile, the application of new technologies and the blooming of tertiary industry will make water use reduction more attractive to industry. Based on the experiences of big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, the rapid expansion of urban areas and the development of the economy did not lead to an increase of per capita water use in these cities. It can be anticipated that per capita water use may not increase as the momentum of restructuring continues.

It should be pointed out that overestimates of water demand in the past exaggerated the estimated gap between water supply and demand. In the early 1980s, the estimated water demand for China in 2000 was projected to be 700 billion m3, on the basis of a nationwide water use project (Department of Planning, Ministry of Water Resources, 1987). The government made similar estimates about water demand for the entire country and for different administrative regions. Overestimation of water demand led to mistakes in strategy and policy formulation. The international concern in the 1990s about the impact of large grain imports from China on world food security perhaps also originated from the overestimate of water demand.

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