Water is a critical issue in China for a variety of reasons. China is poor of water resources with 2300 m3 of per capita availability, which is less than of the world average. This is exacerbated by regional differences; e.g. North China's water availability is only about 271 m3 of per capita value, which is only of the world's average. Furthermore, pollution contributes to water scarcity and is a major source for diseases, particularly for the poor. The Ministry of Hydrology [1997. China's Regional Water Bullets. Water Resource and Hydro-power Publishing House, Beijing, China] reports that about 65–80% of rivers in North China no longer support any economic activities.\ud \ud Previous studies have emphasized the amount of water withdrawn but rarely take water quality into consideration. The quality of the return flows usually changes; the water quality being lower than the water flows that entered the production process initially. It is especially important to measure the impacts of wastewater to the hydro-ecosystem. Thus, water consumption should not only account for the amount of water inputs but also the amount of water contaminated in the hydro-ecosystem by the discharged wastewater.\ud \ud In this paper we present a new accounting and analytical approach based on economic input–output modelling combined with a mass balanced hydrological model that links interactions in the economic system with interactions in the hydrological system. We thus follow the tradition of integrated economic–ecologic input–output modelling. Our hydro-economic accounting framework and analysis tool allows tracking water consumption on the input side, water pollution leaving the economic system and water flows passing through the hydrological system thus enabling us to deal with water resources of different qualities.\ud \ud Following this method, the results illustrate that North China requires 96% of its annual available water, including both water inputs for the economy and contaminated water that is ineligible for any uses.\ud \u
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