Integrated watershed management based on aquatic ecosystems has been increasingly acknowledged. Such a change in the philosophy of water environment management requires recognizing the carrying capacity of aquatic ecosystems for human society from a more general perspective. The concept of the water ecological carrying capacity is therefore put forward, which considers both water resources and water environment, connects socio-economic development to aquatic ecosystems and provides strong support for integrated watershed management. In this paper, the authors proposed an ESEF-based measure of water ecological carrying capacity and constructed ESEF-based models of water ecological footprint and capacity, aiming to evaluate water ecological carrying capacity with footprint methods. A regional model of Taihu Lake Basin was constructed and applied to evaluate the water ecological carrying capacity in Changzhou City which located in the upper reaches of the basin. Results showed that human demand for water ecosystem services in this city had exceeded the supply capacity of local aquatic ecosystems and the significant gap between demand and supply had jeopardized the sustainability of local aquatic ecosystems. Considering aqua-product provision, water supply and pollutant absorption in an integrated way, the scale of population and economy aquatic ecosystems in Changzhou could bear only 54% of the current status.