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close this bookLong Distance Water Transfer: A Chinese Case Study and International Experiences (UNU, 1983)
View the documentForeword
View the documentChapter 1.Long-distance water transfer: problems and prospects
View the documentChapter 2. The river Nile: main water transfer projects in Egypt and impacts on Egyptian agriculture
View the documentChapter 3. Agricultural water management and the environment
View the documentChapter 4. Japanese water transfer: a review
View the documentChapter 5. The Texas water system: implications for environmental assessment in planning for interbasin water transfers
View the documentChapter 6. China's south-to-north water transfer proposals
View the documentChapter 7. Natural conditions in the proposed water transfer region
View the documentChapter 8. Land use and crop allocation in the proposed water transfer region
View the documentChapter 9. South-north water transfer project plans
View the documentChapter 10. Environmental implications of water transfer
View the documentChapter 11. Impact of water transfer on the natural environment
View the documentChapter 12. Impact of south-to-north water transfer upon the natural environment
View the documentChapter 13. Institutions and China's long-distance water transfer proposals
View the documentChapter 14. The Chang Jiang diversion project: an overview of economic and environmental issues
View the documentChapter 15. Water balance in the water transfer region
View the documentChapter 16. Integrated evaluation of the surface and groundwater resources of the Hai and Luan He basins
View the documentChapter 17. Preliminary estimation of natural runoff in the Huai He basin
View the documentChapter 18. Shallow groundwater resources of the Huang-Huai-Hai plain
View the documentChapter 19. Potential evaporation and field water consumption in the north China plain
View the documentChapter 20. Analysis of storage for the regulation of surface water in the Huang-Huai-Hai plain for south-to-north water transfer
View the documentChapter 21. Using ancient channels to regulate water through storage: the example of the Hebei plain
View the documentChapter 22.On the problem of water supply in the Hai-Luan plain
View the documentChapter 23. Some aspects of the necessity and feasibility of China's proposed south-to-north water transfer
View the documentChapter 24. The atmospheric moisture balance in the proposed water transfer region
View the documentChapter 25. The effect of south-to-north water transfer on saltwater intrusion in the Chang Jiang estuary
View the documentChapter 26. An investigation of the water quality and pollution in the rivers of the proposed water transfer region
View the documentChapter 27. Possible effects of the proposed eastern transfer route on the fish stock of the principal water bodies along the course
View the documentChapter 28. Effect of diverting water from south to north on the ecosystem of the Huang-Huai-Hai plain
View the documentChapter 29. An experimental study of improving the Saline-alkali soil in the Yucheng experimental area, Shandong province

Chapter 15. Water balance in the water transfer region

Liu Changming and Liu Enbao
Institute of Geography, Academia Sinica, Beijing, China

THE FOLLOWING is an analysis of the water balance in the proposed water transfer region of eastern China and the four major river basins associated with it (Chang Jiang, Huai He, Huang He and Hai-Luan He).


The total volume of water is abundant in the four basins. Precipitation is 2,697 km³, or 44 per cent of the national total of 6,170 km³. Total runoff is 1,110 km³, 43 per cent of the national total of 2,600 km³ (see Table 1).

Only in the Chang Jiang basin is annual runoff greater than evaporation. In the three other basins, annual evaporation far exceeds runoff and the major mode of water removal is evaporation. Runoff is less than 22 per cent of precipitation in all three.

The quantity and distribution of water varies widely between the four basins. For example, the annual runoff of the Chang Jiang alone accounts for 88 per cent of the total. As shown in Table 2, the annual runoff in the Huang, Huai and Hai basins is much smaller than that of the Chang Jiang not only in the aggregate but also per unit area.

From the standpoint of unified planning of water resources use in the four river basins, it would be natural to solve the problem of water deficiency in the Huang, Huai and Hai basins by supplying water from the rich Chang Jiang. It would seem that no doubt could be cast on the idea of rationally redistributing water regionally through interbasin transfer, but the level of water deficiency and the appropriate scale and rationality of diversion are key topics which need further study.


Areal Distribution of Water-balance Elements

The previous section merely reflected the general state of the balance elements delineated according to basins. Here we present in map form a more detailed distribution of these elements in the east China water transfer region, using data from up to 1970 (Hydrogeological Editing Group, 1981). The principal features may be summarized as follows:

Table 1. Water Balance in the Four Basins

  Catchment P R E R/P E/P
Basin area (km3) km³ mm km3 mm km³ mm    
Hai-Luan 319,029 177.6 556.6 28.3 88.5 149.3 468.0 0.16 0.84
Huang 752,443 370.2 492.0 48.6 64.5 321.6 427.4 0.13 0.87
Huai 261,504 243.0 929.0 53.0 202.7 190.0 726.6 0.22 0.78
Chang 1,807,199 1,906.6 1,055.0 980.0 542.3 926.6 512.7 0.51 0.49
Total 3,147,175 2,697 4 859.0 1,109 353.5 1,587. 505.5 0.41 0.59

Table 2 Runoff as a Fraction of Chang Jiang Runoff

  Huai He Huang He Hai-Luan He
Total runoff .029 .050 .054
Runoff depth .163 119 .3.74

Annual precipitation. Average annual precipitation in the region is 743 mm. Mountainous areas average 724 mm and the plains, 760 mm. In general, precipitation decreases gradually from 1200 to 1400 mm along the Chang Jiang in the south to roughly 600 mm in areas north of the Huang He.

Annual runoff. Average annual runoff in the region is 169 mm. Runoff is markedly higher in the mountainous areas (averaging 220 mm) than in the plains (123 mm). The distribution of runoff coincides roughly with that of precipitation (see Figure 2 in Wei and Zhao, Chapter 7 of this volume).

Figure 1. Three Hydrological Elements

Annual evaporation. Annual evaporation averages 574 mm over the region, 637 mm in the plains and 504 mm in the mountains. There is little variation in the region's evaporation, which lies between 700 mm in the south and 500 mm in the north (see Figure 1).

Annual runoff coefficient. The annual runoff coefficient is higher in the mountains than in the plains and greater in the south than in the north. In the plains it is generally between 0.1 and 0.2 (see Figure 2).

Annual renewal of soil moisture. The areal distribution of this factor is more uniform than that of precipitation or runoff. The Huaibei region north of the Huai He and most areas to the north of it are encompassed by the 600 mm isoline (see Figure 3).

Figure 2. Annual Runoff Coefficient

It is obvious that the water balance elements are affected by the terrain. Figure 4 (a) and (b), synthesizing some research data, presents curves correlating different water balance elements. These clearly reveal differences in the relationship between precipitation and runoff in three kinds of terrain: mountains, hills and plains.

Figure 3. Annual Renewal of Soil Moisture Storage

Figure 4. (a) Regionalization of Water Balance

Figure 4. (b) Correlation Curves of Water Balance Elements for Water Transfer Regions

Characteristics of Water-balance Elements in the Main Provinces and Autonomous Region

Administrative regions are rarely drawn up on the basis of drainage basins. This makes it difficult to calculate provincial water balances. We have used our isograms to make some estimates of the water balance elements in a number of provinces, including Hebei (incorporating Beijing and Tianjin municipalities), Henan, Shandong, Anhui and Jiangsu. The results are listed in Table 3.

It should be pointed out that regional water use is generally planned along provincial boundaries. A provincial water balance therefore makes the calculation of water supply and requirement balances more convenient.

Temporal Distribution of Water Balance Elements

The North China Plain has one of the largest year-to-year variations in precipitation in the country. For example, precipitation reached 1,040.4 mm in 1954 in Gucheng County, Hebei Province, but the next year it was only about onequarter that, or 282.5 mm. Annual runoff variation in the Hai-Luan and Huai river basins is the highest in China, with a coefficient of variation ranging between 0.6 and 0.8.

Three observations should be made here regarding the coefficient of variation for runoff, CVR:

1. CVR is correlated with the coefficients of variation for precipitation, CVP, and evaporation, CVE; the runoff coefficient, Cr; and the correlation coefficient between evaporation and precipitation, rep.
2. CVP declines with area.
3. Therefore, CVR also tends to decline with area. This is evident in Table 4.

The rate of guaranteed water supply could therefore be increased by combining the utilization of river water over a larger area. This is particularly the case in the North China Plain, where the CVR for small- and medium-sized rivers is quite large, generally 1.00 to 1.45, with a very low annual rate of guarantee.

In addition, we have made a synchronous analysis of year-to-year changes in runoff in four major rivers. Our data are presented in Table 5, which shows that abundant, average or deficient water years have occurred simultaneously in all four rivers only five times in forty-seven years. Of these, four were average years and one was abundant. In no years was there a deficiency in all four basins. Annual runoff is thus basically nonsynchronous in the region's major rivers.

We have also drawn up some simulated annual runoff differential mass curves which are presented in Figure 5. These also make it readily apparent that there is a lack of synchronization which would be beneficial to interbasin water transfer.

Table 3 Hydrological Balance in the Main South-to-North Water Transfer Provinces and Autonomous Region

Area Annual precipitation Annual runoff Annual evaporation runoff
    km² %of transfer region km³ mm %of transfer region km³ mm % of transfer region km³ mm % of transfer region
Liaoning mountains 2,080 0.3 1,194 574 0.2 266 128 0.2 928 446 0.2 0.22
  mountains 11,526 1.7 4,176 388 0.9 401 348 0.3 4,075 353 1.0 0.09
Inner Mongolia                          
Hebei total 201,331 29.8 114,310 593 22.7 20,606 102 18.0 93, 704 465 24.2 0.18
mountains 111,036   63,435 571   15,087 136   48,348 435    
plains 90,295   50,875 569   5,519 61.1   45,356 508    
Shanxi mountains 59,532 8.8 30,897 519 6.2 4,805 80.7 4.2 26 092 438 6.7 0.15
Henan total 139,470 20.6 11 5,000 825 22.9 30 000 218 26.2 85 000 609 2 1.9 0. 26
mountains 54,000   51,246 949   18 306 339   32,940 61 0    
plains 85,470   63,754 734   11,694 137   52,060 609    
Shandong total 90,731 13.4 64,963 716 12.9 11,976 132 1 0.4 5 2,987 5 84 13.7 0. 18
mountains 31,658   25,801 815   7,983 252   17,818 563    
plains 59,073   39,162 663   3,993 67.6   35,169 595    
Anhui total 100,791 14.9 102,489 1 ,016 20.4 32,051 318 28.0 70,438 699 18.1 0.31
mountains 50,655   55,007 1,086   23,808 470   31,1 99 616    
plains 50,136   47,482 947   8,243 164   39,239 782    
Jiangsu plains 71 ,140 1 0.5 69,432 976 13.8 14,512 204 12.7 54,920 772 14.2 0.21
Shaanxi mountains 65,800   60,536 920   31,584 480   28,952 440   0.52
Hubei total 119,690   130,223 1,088   41,293 345   88,930 743   0.32
plains 74,570                      
mountains 45,120                      
total total 862,091   693,620 804   187,494 217   506,026 5 87    
Transfer total 676,601   502,761 743   114,617 169   388,144 574    
Region mountains 320,487   232,056 724   70,656 220   161,400 504    
plains 356,114   270,705 760   43,9 61 123   226,744 637    

Table 4 Characteristic Values of Annual Average Runoff at Representative Stations, 1951-1976

River Luan He Sanggan He Zhang He Huang He Huai He Chang Jiang Chang plus Huai Chang + Huang + Huai Total
Station Luanxian Shixiali Guantai Sanmenxia Bengbu Datong      
Catchement area (103 km²) 44.1 23.9 17.8 688.4 121.3 1,705.3 1,826.7 2,515.1 2,601.0
Discharge (m³/sec) 143. 25 53 1,330 902 28,500 29,400 30,700 30,900
CVR 0.54 0.52 0.59 0.28 0.56 0.15 0.16 0.15 0.15

Table 5 Runoff in Four Main Rivers

Year Chang Jiang Huai He Huang He Luan He
1930 0 0 - 0
1931 + + - -
1932 0 - - 0
1933 0 - 0 0
1934 0 - 0 +
1935 + 0 + 0
1936 - - 0 -
1937 + 0 + +
1938 + 0 + +
1939 0 0 0 0
1940 - 0 + 0
1941 - 0 - -
1942 - 0 0 -
1943 0 0 + -
1944 - 0 0 -
1945 0 0 0 -
1946 0 + + 0
1947 0 0 0 0
1948 + 0 0 0
1949 + 0 + +
1950 + + 0 0
1951 0 0 0 -
1952 + 0 0 0
1953 0 0 0 0
1954 + + 0 +
1955 0 0 + 0
1956 0 + 0 +
1957 - 0 - 0
1958 0 0 + +
1959 - - 0 +
1960 - 0 - 0
1961 0 - + -
1962 0 0 0- +
1963 0 + 0 -
1964 + + + +
1965 0 0 - 0
1966 - - 0 0
1967 0 - + 0
1968 0 0 + -
1969 0 0 - +
1970 0 0 0 0
1971 - 0 - -
1972 - 0 - -
1973 0 0 - 0
1974 0 0 - 0
1975 0 + 0 0
1976 - - + 0

Key: +: water abundant (P<25%);
-: water deficient (P>75%);
0: average (25%<P<75%)

Figure 5. Differential Mass Curves of the Four Basins

Annual variations in evaporation are seldom studied. Since the percentage of precipitation which evaporates is over 80 per cent in the Huang, Huai and Hai basins, we may safely assume that CVE is actually very close to CVP.

There is quite a large seasonal variation in water balance elements on the North China Plain. Precipitation in March, April and May only accounts for 10 per cent of the annual total while evaporation is intense and evaporativity may exceed 40 per cent of the year's total. At this time precipitation cannot form surface runoff to recharge the streams. Some plains rivers even cease flowing during the spring. In the summer (June, July and August) waves of thunderstorms provide 60 to 70 per cent of the year's precipitation and runoff is nearly half the annual total. Since the summer runoff often appears in the form of flood waters, it is difficult to utilize it in agriculture.


Water Supply Analysis

The supply of water depends upon its sources, including surface and groundwater and, for agriculture, soil moisture (atmospheric precipitation may of course be considered the ultimate water source). Because the various types of water resources, both surface and subsurface, are continuously moving in the water cycle, the migrations and transformations of water in different spaces are extremely complex. In the North China Plain, in addition to the difficulty of determining the interchange of surface and groundwater, the recharge of plains surface and groundwater by water from the mountains make the calculation of water sources even more complex.

For the exploitation of shallow groundwater, the use of regionalized precipitation seepage coefficients permits a relatively good estimation of groundwater recharge. According to investigations in various parts of the North China Plain by the Ministry of Geology, the average precipitation seepage coefficient is about 0.22. Using this and the annual precipitation for the regions of 270.705 km³, we estimate shallow groundwater at 59.555 km³.

The amount of recharge from the groundwater into the rivers is relatively small in the North China Plain, amounting to 10 per cent or less of river runoff. Synthesizing data from a wide area, we have chosen 8 per cent to obtain surface runoff into the rivers:
Rs = R-Rg = (1-.08) R= (.92) 43.961 = 40.444 km³,
a depth of 114 mm. Most of the lakes in the plain lie south of the Huang He and are principally fed by surface runoff, so they are not recounted in our calculations of surface water. The above statistics indicate that total water resources on the 360,000 km² North China Plain amount to 100 km³, of which 60 per cent is shallow groundwater.

Water Requirements Analysis

In general, water requirements are determined by the level of socioeconomic development. In the North China Plain, about 65 per cent of the area, or 22 x 106 ha, is under cultivation. This is one-fifth of China's total cultivated land. The plain has abundant heat resources, level land and a high population density. Its industry is well developed and it is one of China's most important grain and cotton areas. Further development of its agriculture is of profound significance to China's agricultural modernization. Nevertheless, the plain suffers frequently from the natural disasters of drought, flooding and salinization. In particular, the spring drought is extremely serious. According to local statistics, spring drought occurs in Henan Province nearly every year (P > 0.97). Drought conditions in Hebei Province are even more severe.

Inasmuch as about 80 per cent of water use is in agriculture, the main goal of water transfer from south to north is to supply agriculture. Agricultural water use is related to crop water requirements. According to Cheng Weixin (see Chapter 19), these requirements vary from 850 to 1,000 mm/annum in the North China Plain. This is about 90 to 240 mm greater than precipitation.

Water Balance and Ecological Equilibrium

Human utilization of water resources must affect the water cycle, which in turn leads to changes in the environmental ecosystem. If we only pay attention to the contradictions between supply and requirements, our use of water resources will harm the environment. Figure 6 presents a simplified view of the relationships between the water balances and the ecosystem.

Figure 6. Relationships Between the Balance of Supply and Requirements for Water Resources and the Environmental Ecosystem

The evaluation of water supply and requirements for agriculture should be combined with geographical research, i.e. the principles of the water/heat balance in geographical zones must be considered. Concretely, a region's moisture conditions (including soil moisture) must correspond with its heat conditions.

Figure 7 is an isogram of D=P - E0, where E0 is potential evaporation. D is distributed as follows: the D=0 isoline stretches from the northern part of the Huai He basin through the vicinity of Xuzhou to the Shandong peninsula. From here to the Huang He, the value of D lies roughly between 0 and -300 mm/annum. In the plains in the lower reaches of the Hai and Luan rivers north of the Huang He, D is always less than -300 mm/annum and in the most water deficient Heilonggang district in Hebei Province, D is less than -400 mm/annum. Based on a multiyear average, the water deficiency on the North China Plain may be calculated at about 20 km³/annum.

Figure 7. Water Balance

As mentioned previously, however, the annual variation in precipitation is quite great on the North China Plain. The absolute value of D is commonly more than three times the average during a dry year. From the viewpoint of drought prevention, the scale of a water transfer project cannot be designed on the basis of the average values of D.

The seasonal distribution of water deficiency is also extremely uneven. The largest monthly values of D are in the months of April, May and June. For example, during the dry year of 1972, D reached -328 mm for these three months alone at Shijiazhuang and was -650 mm for the entire year. The annual average for D is nearly zero at Xuzhou, but in the dry year of 1966, the value of D was about 200 mm for April-June and -350 mm for the entire year. The water deficiencies for these two cities were 6,450 m³/ha and 3,450 m³/ha respectively. Obviously, this calculation only applies to drought years. From the viewpoint of average year conditions, these values are excessive and would make water diversion uneconomical. A rational approach would be to increase regulation storage to reduce the amount which needs to be transferred. With full regulation storage, an average of 3,450 m³/ha would have to be diverted according to the annual D value.


The distribution of water balance elements in the four basins is extremely uneven. The annual runoff in the Chang Jiang is 8.5 times the total runoff in the Huang, Huai and Hai basins.

Because of the uneven temporal distribution of the water balance elements, the water requirements of the North China Plain should be analyzed in terms of the deficiency in dry years and dry seasons. The evaluation and calculation of water supply and requirements should be grounded on an analysis of the water balance and the environmental ecosystem. In principle any increase in soil moisture should correspond to potential evaporation so as to be coordinated with the comprehensive control of drought, excess surface water and salinization.

Although the North China Plain is an important agricultural area, the structure of its water balance is not conducive to farming. Over 80 per cent of the region's precipitation is consumed in evaporation. Surface water resources are meagre, limiting the development of the region's agriculture. Even industrial and municipal water supply cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, redistributing a certain amount of supplementary water to the North China Plain is desirable and worthy of study.


Hydrogeological Editing Group, Editorial Committee for China's Physical Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1981, Surface Wafers of China. Science Press, Beijing.