The calculation of an ecological compensation standard is an important, but also difficult aspect of current ecological compensation research. In this paper, the factors affecting the ecological–economic system in the Xiao Honghe River Basin, China, including the flow of energy, materials, and money, were calculated using the emergy analysis method. A consideration of the relationships between the ecological–economic value of water resources and ecological compensation allowed the ecological–economic value to be calculated. On this basis, the amount of water needed for dilution was used to develop a calculation model for the ecological compensation standard of the basin. Using the Xiao Honghe River Basin as an example, the value of water resources and the ecological compensation standard were calculated using this model according to the emission levels of the main pollutant in the basin, chemical oxygen demand. The compensation standards calculated for the research areas in Xipin, Shangcai, Pingyu, and Xincai were 34.91 yuan/m3, 32.97 yuan/m3, 35.99 yuan/m3, and 34.70 yuan/m3, respectively, and such research output would help to generate and support new approaches to the long-term ecological protection of the basin and improvement of the ecological compensation system.

INTRODUCTION

The natural environment and associated ecological systems have provided the foundation for the development of human society for thousands of years (Zhao & Li 2004; Albrecht et al. 2010). However, ongoing industrialization and rapid population growth have led to great increases in harmful environmental impacts, which are now exceeding the environment's capacity (del Carmen Sabatini et al. 2007; Gao et al. 2011). Global environmental problems, such as resource exhaustion and destruction of ecological systems, are increasing (Feng 2000; Ding & Wang 2010; Wang et al. 2012). In the future, development of an ecological compensation mechanism and standard will offer an important tool for tackling the contradiction between the destruction of the environment and the shortage of ecological resources caused by economic and social development.

Ecological compensation is an important environmental economic approach to managing ecological protection and economic development as a whole (Patera 2001; Herzog et al. 2005). It can have a remarkable impact on the coordination of the various interests and profit streams, as well as maintaining social justice. At present, there are many accounting methods associated with ecological compensation, such as the ecological service valuation method (Zbinden & Lee 2005; Wen et al. 2011; Huang 2012), the contingent valuation method (Ouyang et al. 2004; Liu 2007), and the opportunity cost approach (Wang & Liu 2005; Xu et al. 2013). However, these methods lack a common calculating standard or system. For example, taking into consideration that shareholders may have varied understanding of the survey and the surveyed may interpret their willingness in a way favorable to themselves, the contingent valuation method may reach conclusions from the surveyed which are inconsistent with their true desires. In addition, these methods seldom deal with the problem from the perspective of ecological–economic flow processes in the upstream and downstream sections of a river basin within the ecological–economic system. They also omit any analysis of the interconnected relationships among water resource, socioeconomic, and ecological environmental systems, let alone the development of an ecological compensation standard that incorporates the emergy value of water resources that are part of a basin ecological–economic system.

To establish scientific and rational ecological compensation standards based on a water resource ecological–economic system, it is necessary to analyze and find out the relationship between water resource ecological–economic value and ecological compensation. There is constant circulation of materials, energy flows, and information transmission among systems (Messer et al. 1991; Zhang et al. 2006), during which the ecological–economic value of water resources is generated. Accordingly, the ecological–economic value of water resources is derived from the function that the water resource fulfills. Such economic value accompanies the circulation and flow of water within the ecological–economic system, and incorporates economic, social, and ecological environmental value (Central Geological Survey of MOEA 2007). The concentration of pollutants in a river can be increased by withdrawal and discharge of water by economic and social units, by natural and anthropogenic water consumption, and by precipitation. If the pollutant load discharged into the river surpasses the self-purification capacity of a river, loss of ecological value will result. With an increase in water consumption or discharge capacity, the socioeconomic value of water resources tends to decrease, while the loss of environmental value tends to rise. The increase in economic value cannot compensate for the loss of environmental value, and thus the ecological–economic value of water resources declines. Within the ecological system of the Xiao Honghe River Basin, there is an inverted-U relationship between the ecological–economic value and the amount of ecological compensation. The increase in the economic value of water resources cannot counterbalance the loss of ecological value, and the ecological–economic value is rather low when water pollution is serious and the ecological environment deteriorates. The ecological–economic value will gradually rise if compensation is levied on polluters to inhibit their activities, and if those affected by the pollution are compensated for having to treat the problem. As the amount of compensation rises, the environmental pressure will be shifted to social economy, restraining the development of social economy and resulting in sharp decrease to the economic value of water resources. As a result, the ecological–economic value of water resources tends to decrease. Therefore, it is of critical importance to ensure that the ecological compensation standard is in line (more or less) with the transfer law of the ecological–economic value of water resources.

Based on the above analysis, we integrate in an organic way an ecological–economic value of water resources with an ecological compensation standard of a river basin by calculating the amount of water needed to dilute the currently polluted water to water of responsibility-goal quality. This can be a wholly innovative way of thinking for calculation of ecological compensation standards of river basins, which is connected organically to the amount of water and is eliminated of subjective factors, thus making the calculation of ecological compensation standards of river basins more scientific and objective. Taking the Zhumadian area as an example, we will explore the calculation of an ecological compensation standard for the ecological system in the Xiao Honghe River Basin based on emergy theory and ecological–economic methods. This will provide a new approach to developing and supporting a long-term mechanism for the ecological protection of the basin and improving the ecological compensation system (Odum & Brown 1975; Odum et al. 1987).

The Xiao Honghe River is located in the Huai River basin of China with its source at Wugang City in Henan Province. The drainage area of Xiao Honghe River is 2,732 km2. It runs through Wuyang City and Xiping County, Shangcai County, Zhuamadian City of Pingyu County, and converges with its major tributary, the Ru River, in Bantai of Xincai County. The average annual temperature of the Xiao Honghe River Basin was 14.6 °C. Over the same period, annual water evaporation depth was 453.9 mm. The earth is mainly composed of yellow-brownish soil, sand-ginger black soil, Chao soil, Cugu soil, and paddy soil, of which the area of yellow-brownish soil is the largest accounting for 34% of the total land area. The annual precipitation of this basin is 846.7 mm, the total amount of water resources is 2,068,430,000 m³, and the per capita water resources amount is 232 m³, which is lower that of Henan Province of 330 m³. The gross domestic product (GDP) in the drainage area is 54.7 billion yuan, and the population is 4.476 million. In recent years, with the development and construction of towns and cities in the Xiao Honghe River Basin, industry and population increased rapidly, with water in the basin being polluted heavily, having a heavy impact on the ecology, the fishing industry and the security of water supply (Chen & Yao 2008; Chen et al. 2014). In the Xiao Honghe River Basin, there are major and medium-sized reservoirs like Suyahu Reservoir, Boshan Reservoir, Banqiao Reservoir, and Songjiachang Reservoir with their respective capacity of 0.82 billion m³, 0.66 billion m³, 0.67 billion m³, and 0.131 billion m³. The sections with automatic water quality monitoring are Wugouying section and Taqiao Township section. The data of this paper are mainly from the 2013 Zhumadian Year Book of Statistics (Zhumadian Municipal Statistics Bureau 2013) or were provided by the Bureau of Environmental Protection of Henan Province.

METHODS AND MATERIALS

The emergy calculation model for the ecological–economic value of water resources

Emergy analysis, taking emergy as the standard, unifies ecological flows of all sorts in the ecological–economic system, such as energy flow, material flow, currency flow and data flow, in terms of emergy standards, to quantitatively analyze the structure and functions of the system. The formula of emergy conversion of energy, material and other factors is as follows: 
formula
1
Here, M is emergy (seJ); τ is emergy transformity (seJ/J); and B is energy or the mass of material (J).

Compiling the analysis chart of system emergy

Based on the data collected on the research area, the emergy analysis chart will be compiled by the following steps:

  • (i)

    To list the main energy resource (input) and output items of the ecological–economic system or its subsystems, which can be generally arranged in accordance with the categories of the above-mentioned system statistics data, such as renewable resources, non-renewable resources, currency flow, system output.

  • (ii)

    To calculate the energy flow (primitive data) of resources of all sorts, generally taking J as the unit.

  • (iii)

    To translate, based on Formula (1) and the emergy transformity of material and energy of all sorts, the energy and material in the ecological–economic system of water resources and its subsystems into common emergy units; to list them by category and form analysis charts of emergy of ecological–economic system of water resources.

Drawing the network diagram of system energy and emergy

A system energy diagram can be drawn using geographic, ecological, and economic data in a research area. This includes the main components of the system and their relationships, along with the directions of energy, material, and monetary flow. Based on the connotation of the economic, social and ecological value of water resources, for calculating the emergy of ecological–economic value of water resources, it is necessary for us to build energy and emergy networks of the ecological–economic system of water resources, industrial production subsystem, agricultural production subsystem, life subsystem, and ecological–social system.

Calculating the ecological–economic value of water resources

Based on the approach outlined above, original data regarding the energy, material, and monetary flows are collected and divided into different categories to calculate emergy. The details are as shown below.

  • (i)

    Methods to calculate the emergy of economic value of water resources Economic value of water resources refers to the degrees and returns with which water resources contribute to the economic and social development and people's demand. Based on the economic functions of water resources, we can divide it into two major categories: water resources value for industrial and agricultural systems and value for power generation and shipping system.

    • (a)
      Value for industrial and agricultural production system 
      formula
      2
      Here, M is the value of water resource for industrial and agricultural production (seJ); EMI, EMA are output emergy of industrial system and agricultural system, respectively (seJ); WCRI, WCRA are contribution ratio of water resources for industrial and agricultural production, respectively (%).
    • (b)
      Value for power generation and shipping system 
      formula
      3
      Here, river potential energy = (volume of river flow) × (density of water) × (altitude difference) × (potential energy of water) × (gravity acceleration)

      Altitude difference = altitude of the river source − altitude of the river sea inlet.

      Mpower generation and shipping is value of water resources for power generation and shipping system (seJ); τriver is tranformity of river water (seJ/J).

  • (ii)

    Methods to calculate emergy of water resources MS

    Water resources MS is the degree and returns with which water resources sustain healthiness of life and meet social spiritual demand, including labor restitution value and leisure and entertaining value.

    • (a)
      Labor restitution value 
      formula
      4
      Here, is value of water resources for labor restitution (seJ); EML is emegy of life output (seJ); WCRL is contribution ratio of water resources towards life (%); E is Engel coefficient.
    • (b)
      Leisure and entertainment value 
      formula
      5

      Here, is leisure and entertainment value of water resources (seJ); I is revenue from tourism (yuan); EDR is the emergy/currency ratio (seJ/yuan).

  • (iii)

    Methods to calculate emergy of water resources ME

    Water resources ME includes the value for water reservation, air purification, climate regulation, transportation, and value of sewage.

    • (a)
      Value for water reservation 
      formula
      6
      Here, is value of water resources for water reservation (seJ); W is annual volume of water reservation (m³); is emergy transformity of relevant water body (seJ/m3).
    • (b)

      Value of water resources for environment purification

      Presuming that the content of water pollutant in 1 m³ water in the upstream section is M1 (g/m3 or mg/L), and that in the downstream section is M2 (g/m3 or mg/L). The difference between M1 and M2 can be considered as the effect of water purification; so the difference of emergy between an upstream water body and a downstream water body is the emergy consumed for the purification of pollutants. We define it as the emergy value of environmental purification of the water body. And it can be calculated according to 
      formula
      7

      Here, Mwater purification is value of water resources for environmental purification (seJ); M1, M2 are content of pollutants of the water body in the upstream and downstream section, respectively (g/m3 or mg/L); τ1, τ2 is emergy transformity of pollutant in 1 m³ water body in the upstream and downstream section (seJ/m3); W is water volume of the river section (m3).

    • (c)
      Value of climate regulation 
      formula
      8
      Here, Mclimate regulation is value of water resources for climate regulation (seJ); E is evaporation energy (J); τvapor is emergy transformity of vapor (seJ/J).
    • (d)
      Value of sewage 
      formula
      9

      Here, Menvironment pollution is value loss of sewage for environment pollution (seJ); Wsewage is the total volume of sewage (m³); τbefore, τafter are emergy transformity of water body before and after the pollution respectively (seJ/m3).

Hence, by combining the value of economic, social and ecological environment sub-factors to acquire the value of ecological–economic emergy of water resources, the value of ecological–economic emergy of 1 m³ of water can be calculated by dividing the total system value with total volume of water consumed. 
formula
10
 
formula
11
Here, MEC is value of ecological–economic emergy of water resources (seJ); MPEC is value of ecological–economic emergy of 1 m³ water (seJ); W is the total volume of water consumed (m³).
On the basis of the above, through the emergy/currency ratio, we convert the value of ecological–economic emergy of water resources into corresponding ecological–economic value of water resources. 
formula
12
 
formula
13
Here, VEC is ecological–economic value of water resources; VPEC is ecological–economic value of 1 m³ (¥); P is emergy/currency ratio (seJ/¥).

The calculation model for the ecological compensation standard

Using the pollutant concentration, the amount of water required to purify the polluted water to meet water quality standards is calculated, and the ecological compensation standard can be established.

According to the law of the conservation of mass, given the influent concentration is Ii (mg/L) and effluent concentration is Ei (mg/L) in a ton of water, the amount of water Yi (ton) needed when the pollutant decreases by (IiEi) in a ton of water is 
formula
14
Following the approach outlined above, the ecological compensation standard based on emergy theory can be expressed as 
formula
15
Here, Cr refers to the ecological compensation standard based on the value of water resources, and is the total amount of water needed to dilute the pollutant.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Calculating the ecological compensation standard in the research area

According to the emergy theory together with the specific ecological–economic system of the research area, the calculation of the ecological compensation standard is carried out.

Emergy calculation of the ecological–economic value of water resources in the research area

  • (1)

    Emergy index calculation for the research area

    Data related to the energy, material, and monetary flows were collected and integrated to develop the energy network of the water resource ecological–economic system in the Xiao Honghe River Basin (Figure 1).

  • (2)
    Emergy calculation of the ecological–economic value
    Figure 1

    The energy network of the ecological–economic system of water resources in the Xiao Honghe River Basin (SES: social and economic system).

    Figure 1

    The energy network of the ecological–economic system of water resources in the Xiao Honghe River Basin (SES: social and economic system).

    • (i)

      Economic value

      Taking into account the specific situation of the Xiao Honghe River Basin, the value of water resources in the industrial and agricultural production systems can be calculated according to the method outlined above. The results are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

    • (ii)

      Social community value

      Table 1

      Emergy analysis of the industrial production system of the Xiao Honghe River Basin for 2012

      Item Emergy (1020 seJ) 
      Input  
       Renewable environmental resources 38.74 
       Non-renewable environmental resources 677.52 
      Total input 716.26 
      Output  
      Total output 368.33 
      Item Emergy (1020 seJ) 
      Input  
       Renewable environmental resources 38.74 
       Non-renewable environmental resources 677.52 
      Total input 716.26 
      Output  
      Total output 368.33 
      Table 2

      Emergy analysis of the agricultural production system of the Xiao Honghe River Basin for 2012

      Item Emergy (1020 seJ) 
      Input  
       Renewable environmental resources 145.18 
       Non-renewable environmental resources 3.50 
       Non-renewable industrial energy 107.07 
       Renewable organic energy 26.24 
      Total input 281.19 
      Output  
       Agricultural products 368.56 
       Animal by-products 340.18 
      Total output 708.74 
      Item Emergy (1020 seJ) 
      Input  
       Renewable environmental resources 145.18 
       Non-renewable environmental resources 3.50 
       Non-renewable industrial energy 107.07 
       Renewable organic energy 26.24 
      Total input 281.19 
      Output  
       Agricultural products 368.56 
       Animal by-products 340.18 
      Total output 708.74 

      The analysis of living emergy is shown in Table 3. The tourism revenue in the Xiao Honghe River Basin was 67.84 × 108 yuan in the year 2012. Therefore, the monetary value of water was 3.28 yuan/m3.

    • (iii)

      Social environmental value

      Table 3

      Analysis of living emergy of the Xiao Honghe River Basin for 2012

      Item Emergy (seJ) 
      Living emergy input per capita 
       Total input per capita 3.64 × 108 
       Engel coefficient (%) 24.09 
      Item Emergy (seJ) 
      Living emergy input per capita 
       Total input per capita 3.64 × 108 
       Engel coefficient (%) 24.09 

      Only large and medium-sized reservoirs are considered in the study, because the capacity of the small reservoirs is low. The Suyahu, Boshan, Banqiao, and Songjiachang reservoirs are located in the basin. The value of water regulation and storage is shown in Table 4.

      Table 4

      Value of the function of water regulation and storage in the Xiao Honghe River Basin for 2012

      Emergy transformity of water in the reservoir (1011 seJ/m3Emergy value of water regulation (1020 seJ) Emergy/ratio (1011 seJ/) Monetary value of water regulation and storage in 1 m3 (/m3
      6.96 15.59 2.11 3.30 
      Emergy transformity of water in the reservoir (1011 seJ/m3Emergy value of water regulation (1020 seJ) Emergy/ratio (1011 seJ/) Monetary value of water regulation and storage in 1 m3 (/m3
      6.96 15.59 2.11 3.30 

      Data from the water quality monitoring stations at Wugouying and Taqiaoxiang were used to calculate the value of water purification, because the amount of pollutant from each pollution source was not available. The results are shown in Table 5.

      Table 5

      Value of the function of water purification for 2012

      Item Wugouying station (g/m3Taqiaoxiang station (g/m3Difference between the two stations (g/m3Emergy transformity (109seJ/m3Emergy value in 1 m3 (108seJ/m3Monetary value in 1 m3 water (/m3
      Ammonia 1.57 1.98 0.41 2.80 11.50 0.0054 
      COD 60.8 39.2 21.6 3.90 842.00 0.3994 
      Total amount     855.00 0.4048 
      Item Wugouying station (g/m3Taqiaoxiang station (g/m3Difference between the two stations (g/m3Emergy transformity (109seJ/m3Emergy value in 1 m3 (108seJ/m3Monetary value in 1 m3 water (/m3
      Ammonia 1.57 1.98 0.41 2.80 11.50 0.0054 
      COD 60.8 39.2 21.6 3.90 842.00 0.3994 
      Total amount     855.00 0.4048 

      The water evaporation energy was 16.93 × 1019J. The water evaporation emergy was 20.66 × 1020 seJ calculated using the emergy transformity of water vapor. Therefore, the monetary value of climate regulation in 1 m3 of water is 4.73 yuan.

      The calculation of the sewage value includes the environmental damage of water pollution, loss during sewage treatment, and the value of sewage reuse (Table 6).

    • (iv)

      Itemization of the ecological–economic value of water resources

      Table 6

      The value of sewage and sewage reuse for 2012 (unit: /m3)

      Sewage damage Loss during the treatment Value of sewage reuse Total value of sewage 
      −14.85 −0.80 7.35 −8.30 
      Sewage damage Loss during the treatment Value of sewage reuse Total value of sewage 
      −14.85 −0.80 7.35 −8.30 

      The ecological–economic value of water in 1 m3 is 21.55 yuans derived from the itemization of the economic, social, and ecological value of water resources in the Xiao Honghe River Basin (Table 7).

Table 7

The ecological–economic value of water resources in the Xiao Honghe River (Zhumadian area) for 2012

Emergy value in 1 m3 of water (1012seJ/m3Monetary value in 1 m3 of water (/m3
Economy Society Ecological environment Ecological economy Economy Society Ecological environment Ecological economy 
1.81 0.87 0.34 4.55 9.16 4.11 0.16 21.55 
Emergy value in 1 m3 of water (1012seJ/m3Monetary value in 1 m3 of water (/m3
Economy Society Ecological environment Ecological economy Economy Society Ecological environment Ecological economy 
1.81 0.87 0.34 4.55 9.16 4.11 0.16 21.55 

Establishing an ecological compensation standard in the research area

According to the functional categorization of water resources, water of types I and II are of high quality and are similar. Therefore, water of type II was used to establish the compensation standard.

The main pollutant in the Xiao Honghe River is chemical oxygen demand (COD), which is monitored by the analysis of water quality from various sections of the river's course. The ecological compensation standard for each county was calculated based on this analysis. The ecological compensation standard for each county in the Xiao Honghe River Basin was calculated using the method in Table 8.

Table 8

The ecological compensation standard for each county for 2012

Area being compensated Object being compensated Measured value (mg/L) Amount of water needed for dilution (L) Compensation value (/tonne) 
Xiping Shangcai 39.3 1.62 34.91 
Shangcai Pingyu 38 1.53 32.97 
Pingyu Xincai 40 1.67 35.99 
Xincai Anhui (flowing out) 39.2 1.61 34.70 
Area being compensated Object being compensated Measured value (mg/L) Amount of water needed for dilution (L) Compensation value (/tonne) 
Xiping Shangcai 39.3 1.62 34.91 
Shangcai Pingyu 38 1.53 32.97 
Pingyu Xincai 40 1.67 35.99 
Xincai Anhui (flowing out) 39.2 1.61 34.70 

CONCLUSIONS

Watershed eco-compensation has been a heated issue in ecological environmental protection and restoration as well as an effective solution to regional water conflict and ecological damage in water resource development exploitation. By focusing on the upstream and downstream ecological–economic flow in a watershed ecological–economic system that traditional watershed eco-compensation failed to take into consideration, the relationship between watershed eco-compensation and water resource ecological–economic value was analyzed in this paper. Taking Xi Honghe River of the Huaihe River Basin as an example, the emergy analysis method was used and attenuant water was introduced to present an eco-compensation standard that would provide a reference for the eco-compensation in both Xiao Honghe Basin and other different basins globally.

The major conclusions reached in this paper were as follows.

Based on eco-compensation theory, the impact of pollutant discharge during water intake, supply, exploitation, and drainage on water resource ecological–economic value was explored by studying water circulation and flow in a water ecological–economic system, and on this basis the authors made further analysis and found out that the relationship between water resource ecological–economic value and the amount of eco-compensation was inverse-U shaped. This laid the solid theoretical foundations for making a rational watershed eco-compensation standard.

The emergy and energy network diagram was constructed by analyzing water resource ecological–economic value and the amount of eco-compensation according to the general principle of emergy analysis, and the transformation and conversion process of ecological–economic flow, as well as the mutual effect between water resource ecological–economic system and its subsystem of industrial production, subsystem of agricultural production, subsystem of life and subsystem of ecology. According to the real situation of Xiao Honghe Basin, the economic, social, and ecological value of water resources was taken into account. The calculation indicated that, in 2012, the economic, social, and ecological value of water resources in the research area were 9.16 yuan/m3, 4.11 yuan/m3, and 0.16 yuan/m3, respectively. Therefore, the ecological–economic value of water resources in the research area in 2012 was RMB 21.55 yuan/m3. Emergy theory turned out to be an effective instrument in the calculation of water resource ecological–economic value, solving some key issues such as non-uniform units and incomplete calculation.

The influence of water quality was considered in the calculation of the ecological compensation standard for the amount of water needed for dilution, together with the ecological–economic value of water resources, to carry out the ecological compensation calculation of the basin in the research area. In 2012, the compensation standard for the counties of Xiping, Shangcai, Pingyu and Xincai was 34.91 yuan/m3, 32.97 yuan/m3, 35.99 yuan/m3 and 34.70 yuan/m3, respectively.

Since the eco-compensation system has just been established in China and is still being developed, the subjects and objects in the ecological compensation calculation refer to various relevant counties. Therefore, the computational model of the watershed eco-compensation standard built on the aforesaid eco-compensation system should only be considered one of the attempts that determine the eco-compensation standard. More work is needed on how to develop a rational ecological compensation system for upstream and downstream sections, different areas, and different objects within the ecological–economic system in the basin.

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