Assessing the interlinkage of green and blue water in an arid catchment in Northwest China

Environ Geochem Health. 2020 Mar;42(3):933-953. doi: 10.1007/s10653-019-00406-3. Epub 2019 Sep 7.


Water resource assessment is crucial for human well-being and ecosystem health. Assessments considering both blue and green water are of great significance, as green water plays a critical but often ignored role in the terrestrial ecosystem, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. Many approaches have been developed for green and blue water valuation; however, few approaches consider the interrelationship between green and blue water. This study proposed a new framework for green and blue water assessment by considering the interactions between green and blue water and the connections between human and natural ecosystems in an arid endorheic river basin where hydrological cycling is dramatically altered by human activities. The results show that even though green water is the dominant water resource, blue water is also critical. Most of the blue water is redirected back into the soil through physical and human-induced processes to meet the water demand of the ecosystem. The blue and green water regimes are found to be totally different in different ecosystems due to the temporal and spatial variability in water supply and consumption. We also found that humans are using an increasing proportion of water, resulting in decreasing water availability. Extensive water use by humans reduces the water availability for the natural ecosystem. Approximately 38.6% of the vegetation-covered area, which is dominated by farmland and forest, may face a moderate or high risk of increased conflict and tension over freshwater. This study provides crucial information to better understand the interactions between green and blue water and the relations between humans and nature by explicitly assessing water resources. It also provides crucial information for water management strategies that aim to balance humankind and nature.

Keywords: Ecosystem; Irrigation; Risk; Water competition; Water management.

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Conservation of Water Resources / methods
  • Desert Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Fresh Water*
  • Groundwater
  • Humans
  • Hydrology / methods*
  • Recycling
  • Rivers
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Water Resources*
  • Water Supply


  • Soil