|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Falling groundwater tables as a result of over-extraction of groundwater is a major concern in the PRC, particularly in the northern parts of the country. The PRC heavily depends on extraction of groundwater. An estimated 20% of water supplies in the PRC come from groundwater, ranging from 110 billion cubic meters (m3) to 150 billion m3 per year. The largest groundwater user is the agricultural sector (60%), with domestic and industrial usage sharing the remaining 40%. There are more than 100 large cones of groundwater depression with an estimated total area of 150,000 square kilometers (km2) in the PRC. In the Northern China Plain (NCP), the total area of the cone of groundwater depression already extends to 70,000 km2.
The Weifang-Zibo area in Shandong Province depends heavily on groundwater, especially for its intensive and high value agricultural production. Domestic and industrial water demands, although still less than agricultural water use, are also on the rise as a result of the rapid economic development in the area. The project area, covering five cities and counties of the NCP, is the main vegetable producer for Beijing and has a high concentration of greenhouses. The greenhouses using drip irrigation require fresh and sediment free water, which is in most cases provided through shallow groundwater sources. As a result of extensive groundwater abstraction, the project area has become the largest over-exploited aquifer in Shandong Province, and the second largest in the PRC. In some downstream areas, agricultural production already stopped due to lack of suitable water sources. Some of the industrial or domestic water users that are still using groundwater are encouraged by the government to switch to surface water.
Groundwater recharge of both shallow and deep groundwater resources is insufficient to recover from the excessive pumping during the dry periods. Seasonal rainfall fluctuates widely, with an average of 70% of the rainfall occurring from June to September, followed by drought over the rest of the year. Flooding occurs during the summer months, but storm waters flow to the sea unutilized. The pattern of irregular rainfall is expected to worsen as a result of climate change and rainfall is predicted to be reduced. Excessive groundwater usage also occurs because of lack of pricing of the resource, weak licensing and permitting system, and insufficient abstraction metering and groundwater level monitoring.
The consequences of the current unsustainable groundwater utilization are serious: (i) pumping costs have increased, (ii) groundwater quality is deteriorating due to seawater intrusion and environmental pollution, (iii) domestic water supplies and agricultural (particularly, vegetable) production are at risk, and (iv) the area is suffering from significant financial and economic damages caused by land subsidence. Seawater intrusion and upconing' in the north has extended 35 kilometers inland from the coast, and some areas have already experienced subsidence of more than two meters. The process of land subsidence is irreversible, and urgent action is needed to avoid worsening.
Acknowledging the serious concerns, the central government selected the Shandong Province as a demonstration province for modernized water administration. The Shandong Provincial Government (SPG) has already taken multiple initiatives to address water scarcity in the NCP, including promoting water productivity and re-use, and introducing regulations on groundwater pumping. Several water saving technologies, such as drip irrigation, are already widely used in the project area. The results are successful, but more efforts are needed to fully address the risk of further decline of groundwater levels in the Weifang-Zibo area. The national government is constructing the south-north water transfer scheme, which is expected to provide additional water for Shandong Province in 2014. The diverted water, which is mainly intended for municipal and industrial use, will not be sufficient to mitigate the current over-exploitations of the groundwater resources in the NCP.
Lessons learnt from past and ongoing support for the water sector, including the preparation of policy recommendations for PRC's Thirteenth Five-Year Plan, show that there is still lack of innovation towards the implementation of integrated water management approaches and increasing water productivity. Most counties in the project area lack (i) integration of good international practices to provide new alternatives for groundwater conservation, (ii) adequate implementation of water-saving strategies and regulatory stipulations, and (iii) introduction of up-to-date water environmental monitoring technologies. Existing programs also lack support to link efficient and reduced groundwater usage with the retention of surface and storm water to increase groundwater recharge and water availability for water scarce areas.
The project is consistent with the PRC's Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011 2015), which pursues the long-term goal of building a harmonious and moderately prosperous society through regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable growth, and these agendas will continue into the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan, and with the PRC's first National Plan to Protect the Safety of Ground Water Resources (2011 2020). It is also in line with the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) country partnership strategy, 2011 2015 for the PRC in supporting the government's overarching strategic goal by focusing on inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth. The project will contribute to ADB's Water Operational Plan 2011 2020 to (i) increase water productivity across the range of users; (ii) embed integrated water resources management, including improved risk management to mitigate floods, droughts, and other water-related disasters; and (iii) expand knowledge and capacity development that uses technology and innovation more directly.