Options Winter 2020: A detailed picture of water use in China can help to identify key drivers and mechanisms behind changing water use patterns, enabling more reliable future projections and better policies.

It is no surprise that as populations and industrialization increase, so does water demand. However, over the last century, water use has been increasing at a staggering rate—more than twice the rate of the global population. Further compounding this problem is the lack of spatially detailed datasets, limiting proper understanding of the situation. However, according to a new study, there is hope that technology and policy intervention can help mitigate increased usage and secure water access in China.

In a recent study, Acting Water Program Director Yoshihide Wada and his coauthors provide a detailed, historical picture of water use in China through socioeconomic development and the impact of technology and policy. The study for instance found that although China’s water use doubled between 1965 and 2013, there was a significant slowdown in growth rates after 1975. The authors attribute this to more efficient irrigation methods and other technological adoptions.

“Modeling water use is very complex and we need much more regional data and coordination to improve our understanding of how people use water,” explains Wada. “The modeling community should work together to achieve this, as it is crucial to identifying key drivers and mechanisms behind changing water use patterns. More reliable future projections will improve future policies that address the challenge of decoupling water use from socioeconomic development in China and other water-stressed countries.”

By Michael Fitzpatrick