June 16, 2011

 

China may lose 30% farm output to groundwater drawdown
 

 

China could lose about 30% of its agricultural output if current rates of groundwater usage continue unabated, an environmental expert with the EU-China River Basin Management Programme said Wednesday (Jun 15).

 

The ongoing drawdown of groundwater, pumped out to supplement increasingly scarce water resources in the Bohai and Yellow River basins, may take its toll on Chinese agriculture in five years, said Lars Skov Andersen, a deputy team leader for the programme and a director for global environmental consultancy COWI.

 

"The groundwater level is falling significantly, and there is now risk of saltwater intrusion damaging the freshwater resources," he said.

 

"In a few years, there may be no more groundwater so a reduction of agriculture will be necessary."

 

China's south-to-north water transfer project will not adequately address the problem as the water in that project would likely end up in Beijing, Tianjin and industrial users before it reaches agriculture, he said.

 

The government's RMB4-trillion (RMB617-billion) spending package on water resources announced this year does not contain any significant solution to refilling the parched groundwater in the northeast, Andersen said.

 

"Thirty percent of water use (for agriculture) is being 'financed' by groundwater," he said. "If the groundwater falls, and you want to produce the same crops, you could lose 30%-40% of the crops in the basin."

 

While no official estimate exists on the impact of the groundwater drawdown in the northeast, Andersen said back-of-the-envelope estimates on a similar area in Gansu province suggest a five-year timeframe before groundwater in the area is completely used up, a position supported by local experts, he said.

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