Lack of consideration of environmental water requirements (EWR) in water resource allocation has caused several environmental problems in the Haihe River Basin, North China. This highlights an urgent need to study EWR and ensure instruments for sustainable water resource management in the basin. In this study, EWR scenarios were calculated for 2010 and 2030, giving values are 6.58 billion m3 in 2002, 9.22 billion m3 in 2010, and 11.62 billion m3 in 2030. Three policies and management instruments were used to address EWR, including the South–North water transfer scheme, water price policy modifications and agricultural water saving. Compared with lack of adoption of such measures, these three management instruments may mitigate acute water scarcity and lead to some improvements. This paper attempts to establish a link between adoption of measures, impact on water user sectors and environmental consequences. It also provides a basis for discussion about the effectiveness of these measures and notes additional controversies among technical, political and economic instruments.

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