This article investigated how the use of a water resources assessment model contributed to one of the first strategic environmental assessments (SEA) conducted for arid/semi-arid regions in China. The study was based on the SEA of a coal industry development plan in Ordos, an arid/semi-arid region of northwest China, where a temporally and spatially simplified version of the WEAP (Water Evaluation And Planning System) model was applied for assessing the impact of the planned activities on local water resource system. Four scenarios were developed to simulate various alternatives using a diverse range of water utilisation measures such as irrigation efficiency, treatment and the reuse of water. The WEAP model itself was found to be a useful tool for efficient water resources assessment in SEA: 1) WEAP provides built-in simulation modules for water assessment, which improve the SEA's efficiency significantly; 2) WEAP temporally has the flexibility in both delivering information on a reasonably aggregated level by evaluating water resource on an annual time step, which fits most SEA cases, and being possible to take a finer time step analysis monthly, weekly even daily; 3) Spatially, WEAP has advantage in dealing with distributed demand sites in large spatial scale. However, although WEAP appears as a useful tool in providing support for decision-making, in this SEA case we experienced difficulty in building a feasible scenario to mitigate the impact of the proposed activities on the local water system, so that solution had to be found outside of the assessed scenarios - which led to the discussion on the fact that the proposed activities in SEA cases are rarely regarded as an uncertainty. Therefore future research on the scope of SEA scenarios could be valuable.
Keywords: China; Semi-arid area; Strategic environmental assessment; WEAP model; Water resources assessment.
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