Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Maricopa, Arizona » U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center » Water Management and Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #360453

Research Project: Advancing Water Management and Conservation in Irrigated Arid Lands

Location: Water Management and Conservation Research

Title: Water-scarcity footprints and water productivities indicate unsustainable wheat production in China

item HUANG, JING - Leiden University
item RIDOUTT, BRAD - Commonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
item Thorp, Kelly
item WANG, XUECHUN - University Of Science And Technology Of China
item LAN, KANG - University Of Science And Technology Of China
item LIAO, JUN - University Of Science And Technology Of China
item TAO, XU - Huazhong Agricultural University
item WU, CAIYAN - University Of Science And Technology Of China
item HUANG, JIANLIANG - Huazhong Agricultural University
item CHEN, FU - China Agricultural University
item SCHERER, LAURA - Leiden University

Submitted to: Environmental Science and Technology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/7/2019
Publication Date: 8/20/2019
Citation: Huang, J., Ridoutt, B.G., Thorp, K.R., Wang, X., Lan, K., Liao, J., Tao, X., Wu, C., Huang, J., Chen, F., Scherer, L. 2019. Water-scarcity footprints and water productivities indicate unsustainable wheat production in China. Environmental Science and Technology. 224.

Interpretive Summary: Food security around the world requires adequate water resources. This study implemented a simulation model (AquaCrop) and a geospatial simulation tool (GeoSim) to spatially analyze wheat yield, water use, and irrigation requirements for wheat production across China. The study highlighted regions in China where wheat production may be unsustainable due to water shortages. The results may lead to improved water management and planning for wheat production in China.

Technical Abstract: Water shortage is a critical constraint limiting China’s capacity for food security. To provide evidence supporting environmentally sustainable water use in food production, this study compared irrigation water productivities (IWPs) and water-scarcity footprints (WSFs) for China’s wheat production at high spatial resolution. Contrary to previous water productivity studies assessing crop yield over total water consumption, it was found that IWPs in China’s water-scarce northern regions were much lower than those in water-rich southern regions. The WSFs further demonstrated the larger environmental impacts resulting from irrigation in water-scarce northern regions. Hotspot regions, having IWPs in the lowest tercile (<5.2 kg m-3) and WSFs in the highest tercile (>0.058 m3 H2Oe kg-1), were mainly located in the Huang-Huai-Hai and northwestern regions and accounted for 34% of the cropping area but 61% of irrigation water use. Historically, southern regions were the production center of wheat in China, but progressive shifts toward highly resource-efficient cropping in the Huang-Huai-Hai region has occurred. The paradox is that gains in total crop water efficiency have led to increased irrigation demand and water scarcity. Today, croplands suitable for wheat production lie fallow in some southern regions in the winter. A national reassessment of this situation is urgently needed.