Network environ analysis for socio-economic water system

Delin Fang of Beijing Normal University used Network Environ Analysis to study water conservation assessment with respect to cycling and indirect flows in the Ganzhou District of the Heihe River Basin, China.


Water is an essential resource for human wellbeing and ecosystem functioning. The availability of freshwater is continuously declining due to increasing water demands, global climate change, and a multitude of water use conflicts. As water resources have been a bottleneck for future human development, research into the rational utilization of such limited resources is vital. A water conservation assessment took place in the Ganzhou District in the Heihe River Basin, China. As the main water consumption in Ganzhou is from farming, livestock, and agriculture, the government wishes to reduce agricultural water consumption to allow more water to flow through to the Basin’s lower reaches [1].


Most models developed for water system analysis ignore cycling and the indirect flows associated with importing and exporting products that contain water or have consumed water during the production process. This so-called embodied or hidden water is vital for an integrated view of water utilization efficiency. This study used network environ analysis (NEA), a formal quantitative methodology to account for cycling and indirect embodied water flows. This approach can show the efficiency of water utilization from a holistic perspective and be used to investigate how various components of the system are linked to each other and to the overall system.

Results and Conclusions

Results showed that the network structure influenced the cycling and indirect flows. It also showed that, from a throughflow perspective, the system depends on large boundary inputs of fresh water, namely, new freshwater supplies are constantly in demand. Furthermore, the amount of cycling and indirect flows are much lower than for natural food webs, implying that the current management of freshwater inputs does not lead to the positive resource utilization seen in natural systems. With targeted policies, therefore, additional cycling could be used to stretch the scarce water resources. This study provides a novel perspective and methodology for assessing the structure and efficiency of water utilization system with a holistic perspective.


[1] Fang DL, Fath BD, Chen B, Scharler UM (2014). Network environ analysis for socio-economic water system. Ecological Indicators, 47, 80-88 (Research publication).


Brian Fath, Advanced Systems Analysis Program, IIASA

Ursula Scharler, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa


Delin Fang of Beijing Normal University is a Chinese citizen and was funded by IIASA’s Chinese National Member Organization during the SA-YSSP.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 18 March 2015


Ulf Dieckmann

Principal Research Scholar Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

Principal Research Scholar Systemic Risk and Resilience Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

Principal Research Scholar Cooperation and Transformative Governance Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

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