The conflict between increasing water demand and limited water resources has become a serious threat to oasis regions in China. Solutions to water scarcity have to curb overall water demands, especially reducing agricultural water use. Price control and quantitative control are the two most commonly applied policy instruments for water demand management. This paper used a bio-economic model (BEM) to examine the shadow price of water resources and to investigate farmers’ response to water demand management policies in water scarce regions based on a study in the Heihe River Basin in northwest China. The results indicate that farmers are not very responsive to changes in water price, because it is currently far below the shadow price of water resources in most irrigation zones. A reduction of agricultural water demand could occur only with a large rise in the water price. In comparison, a quantitative control measure is more effective at reducing water use. Concerning the effects on farm income, a price control will cost much more than a quantitative control to save the same volume of water. Hence, a water quota is a more suitable choice for the purpose of reducing agricultural water use, while minimizing farm income loss in the region of this case study.
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