The Yellow River Basin: Water Accounting, Water Accounts, and Current Issues

Zhongping Zhu, Mark Giordano, Ximing Cai, David Molden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is increasing recognition of the problems facing China in meeting the growing water demand in the Yellow River basin, the “cradle of Chinese Civilization” and a critically important agricultural and industrial region. Meaningful debate on the range and relative costs of options available to policy-makers in addressing the problem depend fundamentally on an accurate understanding of basin water resources. Unfortunately, the ability of outsiders to participate in the de bate and for Chinese, with their long history of water management, to contribute to similar discussions elsewhere in the world is hindered to some extent by a lack of understanding of differences in water accounting systems and concepts. This paper attempts to address this problem by describing the water accounting system used in the Yellow River basin and elsewhere in China. The paper shows that the primary difference between water accounting methodologies in the Yellow River and those typically applied elsewhere is related to supply accounting in general and groundwater accounting in particular. Although not currently included in its water accounting system, Chinese concepts of environmental water use, when included, will also differ substantially from those familiar to outside researchers. In terms of actual Yellow River balances, the paper highlights the apparent declining trend in basin rainfall and runoff and the dramatic growth in industrial and domestic water use. Together declining supply and rising demand will increasingly cause policy-makers to face hard choices in assessing their water planning options. These choices will only become more difficult as managers in the Yellow River, as elsewhere in the world, try to incorporate ecological needs in the water accounting equation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-10
Number of pages9
JournalWater International
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Environmental use
  • Water accounting
  • Water management
  • Yellow River

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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