As one of the most crucial indices of sustainable development and water security, water resources carrying capacity (WRCC) has been a pivotal and hot-button issue in water resources planning and management. Quantifying WRCC can provide useful references on optimizing water resources allocation and guiding sustainable development. In this study, the WRCCs in both current and future periods were systematically quantified using set pair analysis (SPA), which was formulated to represent carrying grade and explore carrying mechanism. The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model, along with water resources development and utilization model, was employed to project future water resources scenarios. The proposed framework was tested on a case study of China’s Han River basin. A comprehensive evaluation index system across water resources, social economy, and ecological environment was established to assess the WRCC. During the current period, the WRCC first decreased and then increased, and the water resources subsystem performed best, while the eco-environment subsystem achieved inferior WRCC. The SWAT model projected that the amount of the total water resources will reach about 56.9 billion m3
in 2035s, and the water resources development and utilization model projected a rise of water consumption. The declining WRCC implies that the water resources are unable to support or satisfy the demand of ecological and socioeconomic development in 2035s. The study furnishes abundant and valuable information for guiding water resources planning, and the core idea of this model can be extended for the assessment, prediction, and regulation of other systems.
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