Water resources management is increasingly important for sustainable economic and social development. A coherent division of the development stages is of primary importance for selecting and implementing related water resource management strategies. Using evolving supply–demand relationships, this paper proposes a framework that considers water development stages to present a series of dynamic relationships between water demand changes and overall economic development. The framework is applied to China to advance the understanding of how demand evolves at different stages of water resources development under specific socioeconomic circumstances, and of strategic choices in general. The case of China explains how water resources management has gradually improved during distinct socioeconomic development stages. It illustrates the varieties and effectiveness of water policies made to adapt to changing demand over the course of socioeconomic development. The framework can be potentially applied to other countries or regions to identify the development stage in order to select proper water management strategies.
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