Assessing water footprint at river basin level: A case study for the Heihe River Basin in northwest China

  • Zeng Z
  • Liu J
  • Koeneman P
 et al. 
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Abstract

Increasing water scarcity places considerable importance on the quantification of water footprint ({WF)} at different levels. Despite progress made previously, there are still very few {WF} studies focusing on specific river basins, especially for those in arid and semi-arid regions. The aim of this study is to quantify {WF} within the Heihe River Basin ({HRB)}, a basin located in the arid and semi-arid northwest of China. The findings show that the {WF} was 1768 million m(3) yr(-1) in the {HRB} over 2004-2006. Agricultural production was the largest water consumer, accounting for 96% of the {WF} (92% for crop production and 4% for livestock production). The remaining 4% was for the industrial and domestic sectors. The "blue" (surface-and groundwater) component of {WF} was 811 million m(3) yr(-1). This indicates a blue water proportion of 46%, which is much higher than the world average and China's average, which is mainly due to the aridness of the {HRB} and a high dependence on irrigation for crop production. However, even in such a river basin, blue {WF} was still smaller than "green" (soil water) {WF}, indicating the importance of green water. We find that blue {WF} exceeded blue water availability during eight months per year and also on an annual basis. This indicates that {WF} of human activities was achieved at a cost of violating environmental flows of natural freshwater ecosystems, and such a {WF} pattern is not sustainable. Considering the large {WF} of crop production, optimizing the crop planting pattern is often a key to achieving more sustainable water use in arid and semi-arid regions.

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