China: Rehabilitation and management strategy for over-pumped aquifers under a changing climate

In the past 30 years the aquifers in the North China plain have been over-exploited. Based on cutting-edge Sino-Swiss expertise in real-time groundwater monitoring and modelling, the project will implement groundwater and agricultural management policies to stabilize groundwater levels as a buffer to climate change induced droughts. The project will work with farmers and local authorities to facilitate policy uptake. Findings are relevant for many water-stressed countries and will be shared globally.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Climate change and environment
Agriculture & food security
Water resources conservation
Environmental policy
Agricultural water resources
01.09.2018 - 31.12.2022
CHF  2’816’000

Severe over-pumping of aquifers has become a common problem in many arid- or semi-arid regions of the world. In the North China Plains, where 30% of China’s grain is produced, water tables have dropped at a speed of 2 meters per year. Over-pumping aquifers causes ecological and environmental degradation of soils, wetlands and rivers and it also increases the pumping cost for farmers due to the declining groundwater table. And it reduces the ability of aquifers to serve as a buffer for increasing climate extremes, induced by climate change.

Sustainable management of groundwater is a global concern. 40% of the global irrigation water comes from groundwater. Experiences from this project are highly relevant at the local, regional and global level.

Objectives The overall goal of the project is to test and implement groundwater management and water saving policies in order to strengthen adaptation capacity to climate variability and climate change.
Target groups
  1. Farmers and water user associations, who suffer from the declining groundwater levels, are the main stakeholders to sustain groundwater levels by their individual and collective actions;
  2.  Research and policy advisory institutes and water experts as the major policy advising group in and outside China will benefit from evidence-based policy testing
  3.  Local and National authorities and line ministries, will benefit from cross-sectoral
Medium-term outcomes

Outcome 1: Chinese capacity of establishing and maintaining real-time groundwater monitoring and control systems is assured. 

Outcome 2: Policy options for sustainable management of groundwater and water efficient agricultural practices are jointly elaborated and implemented by the local authorities 

Outcome 3: Knowledge and best practices generated are shared for replication at the national, regional and global level.


Expected results:  

Phase 2 of the project will complete the real-time groundwater monitoring and modelling in Guantao County to serve for real-time decision support in the pilot region. 

Strong emphasis will be on policy influencing by use of the evidence and results gained from the project. 

Strong efforts will be made in knowledge sharing and technology transfer to other places in China, as well as to South Asia (Pakistan, India) and Central Asia. The global outreach of this project will be facilitated by working with multilateral research organisations such as the International Water Management Institute and UN-organisations.

Results from previous phases:  

The project was carried-out in 2 pilot regions in Phase 1: In the Heihe river basin in northwest of China a combined groundwater metering and water fee collection system was implemented through a public-private-partnership. Combined with a groundwater pricing system associated with quota and subsidy for water saving equipment, the system encourages farmers to save water and has already contributed to mitigation of groundwater over-exploitation. The Heihe pilot is completed and sustainably operated by the Chinese partners.

In the second pilot site, the Guantao County of Hebei province in the North China Plain the project designed a system of monitoring groundwater abstraction based on electricity consumption. This cost-efficient method successfully solved the difficulty of groundwater monitoring, and can be up-scaled to the entire North China Plain. In addition, an online data platform has been set-up to store the observation data of groundwater pumping and groundwater levels, and tools for modelling and decision-making were developed in Phase 1.

Directorate/federal office responsible SDC
Credit area Development cooperation
Project partners Contract partner
Foreign academic and research organisation
Private sector
Foreign state institution
Swiss Academic and Research Institution
  • Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
  • ETHZ Zurich
  • Foreign private sector South/East
  • Swiss Private Sector
  • Sub-National State SouthEast

Coordination with other projects and actors

The project is fully in line with China’s national strategy for groundwater governance in North China Plain, and will maximize synergies with national actions.

Synergies with other groundwater management and water efficient agriculture initiatives will be established, e.g. with a new project on Solar pumping and groundwater governance of GPCCE India, and with projects of GPW and GPFS.

Budget Current phase Swiss budget CHF    2’816’000 Swiss disbursement to date CHF    2’381’138
Project phases Phase 2 01.09.2018 - 31.12.2022   (Current phase) Phase 1 15.03.2014 - 31.07.2018   (Completed)