Chapter in The Development, Challenges and Management of Groundwater in Rural China. Groundwater in Developing World Agriculture: Past, Present and Options for a Sustainable Future, Edited by Mark Giordano and Tushaar Shah, International Water Manage
The history of groundwater in China is one of extremes, or apparent extremes. Before the 1960s, the story was one of neglect; only a small fraction of China's water supply came from groundwater (Nickum, 1988). Almost none of the Ministry of Water Resource's investment funds were allocated to the groundwater sector until the late 1960s. Certainly, to the extent that underground water resources were valuable, China was ignoring a valuable resource. Since the mid-1970s, however, the prominence of the groundwater sector has risen dramatically. Over the last 30 years, agricultural producers, factory managers and city officials, far from ignoring groundwater resources, have entered an era of exploitation (Smil, 1993; Brown and Halweil, 1998). Arguably, there have been more tube wells sunk in China over the last quarter century than anywhere else in the world. As a share of total water supply, ground water has risen from a negligible amount across most of China to being a primary source of water for agriculture, industry and domestic use in many of the nation's most productive regions. Unfortunately, the resulting fall in groundwater tables has been one of China's most serious environmental problems.