Yellow River


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The Yellow River Basin is part of / comprises: · Asia & Pacific · Eastern Asia ·
Countries sharing the Yellow River Basin: · China ·
Facts & Figures edit
Catchment AreaA n/a km3
Neighbouring BasinsA n/a
PopulationA n/a
Population DensityA n/a /km2
DischargeA n/a km3/yr
Surface Area m3
Average Depth m
Water Volume m2
Water Stress n/a m3/person/year
Average Precipitation mm/yr
Evaporation mm/yr
Runoff n/a mm/yr
Land Use
Irrigated Area n/a km2
Irrigable Area n/a km2
No. of DamsA n/a
Dam Density n/a dams/km2
Total Water Withdrawals km3
  For Agricultural Use
  For Domestic Use
  For Industrial Use
Renewable Water Available (m3/yr/pers)
References & Remarks
A Transboundary Freshwater Spatial Database, Oregon University

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Water Basin Profile: Physical and Hydrological Characteristics

Source:UN WWDR3

The Yellow River is the second longest river in China after the Yangtze River, and the sixth longest in the world. Originating on the Qinhai-Tibetan plateau in western China, it runs for some 5,500 km across the vast North China Plain, traversing nine provinces before draining into the Bo Hai Sea (Map 2.2). Its catchment area of 795,000 km2 is home to 110 million people (2000) or about 8.7% of China’s population. (The figures increase to 189 million and 14.9% if the flood plain surrounding the lower reach is included.) In 2000, about 26.4% of the basin was urbanized. As the cradle of the northern Chinese civilizations and the centre of China’s current political, economic and social development, the river is known as ‘the mother river of China’.

The basin lies in two different climatic zones: arid and semi-arid continental monsoon in the north-west and semihumid in the south-east More than 60% of the annual precipitation falls between June and September, during the crop growing season. Average rainfall recorded during 1956–2000 was 454 mm over the entire basin, the lowest level being in the upper reach (372 mm) and the highest in the lower reach (671 mm). There is a declining tendency observed in rainfall over the entire basin. During the 1990s, because of prevailing drought conditions, average precipitation was about 7.5% below the long term average.

According to various models of the effects of climate change on temperature and annual precipitation in the Yellow River basin, annual average temperature could rise by up to 3.90°C and precipitation by 8.67% by 2080 (Xu et al., n.d.). Significant warming could reduce the availability of the water resources (Zhang et al., 2008). Consequently, better water management and adaptation of technology to improve water use efficiency will need to be considered to avoid a critical water shortage in the basin in the coming century.

Water Basin Profile: Socio-Economic and Environmental Issues

Declining Water Quality and Quantity

Average total renewable water resources for 1956–2000 were estimated at 66.1 billion m3, including 17.2 billion m3 of groundwater. However, in 2000, the total available water supply was around 48.4 billion m3.2 Water demand in the basin sharply increased from 10 billion m3 in 1949 to 37.5 billion m3 in 2006. Groundwater has been extensively exploited in the basin since the introduction of the tube well in the late 1950s. In 2000, groundwater abstraction reached 10.7 billion m3 and there were some 380,000 tube wells in the basin. Consequently, overexploitation of groundwater resources has been a serious concern, particularly in the large and mid-size cities along the Yellow River. Springs in Jinan, once known as ‘the city of springs’, dried up in the late 1990s. Overall, groundwater levels have dropped significantly in 65 locations due to extensive withdrawals.

The biggest direct impact of a booming economy coupled with rapid industrialization and population growth was on water quality. For example, the amount of untreated industrial sewage being dumped into the Yellow River has doubled since the 1980s to 4.2 billion m3 per year. The river receives over 300 pollutants, and only about 60% of its course is now fit for drinking water supply. The reduction in quality has caused environmental problems and contributed to the reduction in quantity. Under the Water Pollution Protection Law, a legislative framework for better protection of water resources is being prepared. Necessary regulations and effluent standards have also been formulated. In parallel, the Water Resources Protection Law on the Yellow River Basin is being modified.

As a result of intensive water development between 1951 and 1987, many structures were built in the basin for flood control, hydropower and irrigation. In 2000, there were over 10,000 reservoirs in operation, with total storage capacity of 62 billion m3; 23 involve large dams. Hydropower production in the basin amounts to 40 TWh per year.

The expansion of irrigation in the basin has been rapid. The irrigated area rose from 8,000 km2 in 1950 to 75,000 km2 in 2000. Demand for irrigation water grew steadily, reaching 38.1 billion m3 in 2000 (Li, 2005; YRCC, 2007). Although the trend stabilized in the early 1980s and agricultural water use has decreased since 2000 in accordance with the Yellow River Water Allocation Scheme, agriculture still accounts for 84% of total water consumption, followed by industry with 9% and households with 5%. The remaining 2% goes for environmental use (2006). When consumption exceeds water availability in the basin, the deficit is met by using groundwater resources outside the basin, as well as recycling.

Water Basin Profile: Transboundary Political and Institutional Setting

Water Basin Profile: Emerging Challenges and Opportunities for the Future


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