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In 2005, total water withdrawal was an estimated 554.1 km3 of which 65 percent (358.0 km3) was for irrigation, 12 percent (67.5 km3) for municipal use and 23 percent (128.6 km3) for industry (Table 9 and Figure 1). In 1993, total water withdrawal was 525.5 km3, of which 77 percent (407.7 km3) was for irrigation, 5 percent (25.2 km3) for municipal use, and 18 percent (92.6 km3) for industrial use.
Agriculture is the main sector that withdraws water water; although only 45 percent is actually consumed by crops, owing to the low efficiency of the irrigation systems. On the other hand, however, this figure is comparatively high considering the cropping structure. The relatively poor water productivity, US$3.6 per m3, is lower than the average of US$4.8 per m3 in middle income countries, and much lower than the US$35.8 per m3 in high-income countries (World Bank, 2009a). The United Nations predicts that China’s population will increase from 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion between 2000 and 2030. The rapidly urbanizing population is expected to push demand to new heights. The expanding industrial sector is also greedy for water (Burke, 2000). The recycling rate in the industrial sector is only 40 percent, compared to 75-85 percent in developed countries (World Bank, 2009a).
In 2005, primary surface water withdrawal represented 80 percent of total water withdrawal (Figure 2). In 1995, the reused treated wastewater volume was 13.4 km3. In 2008, desalinated water accounted for 10.95 million m3. In addition to water withdrawal by the three main sectors (agriculture, municipalities, industry), China reserved 9.28 km3 of surface water in 2005 for ecosystems.
In southern China, the main source of water is primary surface water, which represents over 90 percent of the water withdrawal. Northern China is the region that uses the majority of China’s primary groundwater. In the five northern provinces, Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxia and Inner Mongolia, 65 percent of the water withdrawal was from groundwater in 2005. In the three northeastern provinces, Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang groundwater withdrawal accounted for almost 45 percent of total water withdrawal. In the Hai river basin, groundwater accounted for 67 percent and was being withdrawn from the aquifer at a rate of 95.5 percent. To compensate for the deficit of surface water in meeting demand, northern China has increasingly relied on groundwater.
This intensive use of groundwater resources has resulted in the lowering of water tables and the rapid depletion of groundwater reservoirs. For example, the annual sustainable withdrawal of groundwater in the Hai river basin is an estimated 17.3 km3, while withdrawals are 26.1 km3, which indicates an annual over-extraction as high as 8.8 km3. As a result, deep groundwater tables have dropped by up to 90 m and shallow groundwater tables by up to 50 m. In Beijing, groundwater tables have dropped by 100–300 m (World Bank 2009a). In contrast, less than 30 percent of the known groundwater resources in southern China are being used (Wang et al., 2005).