It is crucial to consider regional heterogeneity while analyzing drivers of changes in sectoral water use for developing differentiated and effective demand-regulation strategies in China. By using the logarithmic mean Divisia index method, this study compares dynamic influences of intensity, structure and scale factors on changes in productive and domestic water use during 2003–2017 between Tianjin (a socio-economic developed region) and Hebei (less-developed). The results show that the scale effect stimulated the growth of productive water use in both regions, while structure and intensity effects restrained such growth. The three effects all stimulated the growth of domestic water use in most years in both regions. In both regions, the largest contributor to changes in productive and domestic water use was the scale and intensity effect, respectively. However, in the two regions, the synergies of three effects resulted in different change trends of productive water use, and cumulative contributions of sub-sectors to the intensity, structure and scale effects were not exactly the same. Tianjin and Hebei need to keep on adjusting industrial structure and lowering water-use intensity to control future growth of productive water use and take strict measures to tackle the increasing trend of domestic water use but should have different policy implementation focuses.
The drivers of water-use changes of regions at different socio-economic development stages were compared.
The forces of driving-factors of productive and domestic water use changed with time.
The root cause of changes in productive and domestic water use was not exactly the same in the two regions.
The results are helpful for formulating differentiated water-demand management policies.