Beijing Water

No city is safe for potable tap water

(July 17, 2012) No city in China provides safe tap water to all of its residents, claims a new report by Caixin Online. Water treatment is too costly for city budgets, say some officials; others say even when properly treated, water pollution and old pipes compromise tap water.

A drop in China’s dirty water bucket

By Gong Jing for Caixin Online

BEIJING — Hurtling beneath the ground, there are sturdy new subways coursing through every major urban center of China like an electric current of modernity. The country’s rapid urbanization in a matter of mere decades has produced engineering marvels that will be held up in the future as feats of fortitude and ingenuity.

But also installed underground with the power to astonish are failing water supply infrastructure networks. To date, there isn’t a single city in China that provides safe tap water to all of its residents.

In 2006, the latest revisions to the Standards for Drinking Water Quality stipulated that tap water quality across the country would be directly potable by July 1 of this year. The deadline came and went with no apparent recognition.

Du Ying, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), announced the results of a 2011 report on drinking water.

In samples from major cities nationwide, Du said the largest cities had an 83% rate of compliance, while medium-sized cities had a 79.6% rate. This means that for every 100 urban residents with tap water, roughly 79 have access to water that can be drunk straight from the tap without boiling.

City governments have attempted to raise drinking water coverage but appear to have gained little headway. In 2004, Hangzhou completed construction of its Nanxing Waterworks Deep Treatment Facilities.

The Hangzhou government announced the city would have directly potable water by 2008. However, just before the end of 2008, the municipal government pushed the deadline back by two years. By the end of 2010, however, the city still was not able to provide directly potable water to all residents.

Parts of Guangzhou and Shenzhen have also attempted to achieve directly potable tap water, but without success.

In addition to this, large and medium cities have compartmentalized the effort by setting goals for potable tap water in residential complexes, schools, hotels and public places.

City government officials have complained that the cost of water treatment remains too high for current budgets. Others say that even when properly treated, directly potable water may not be feasible with deteriorating water infrastructure networks.

Adding to this was the tepid reception to the 2006 drinking water standards. The standards were never viewed as feasible given the country’s poor management of its secondary water supply, numerous senior officials at Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) and Ministry of Health said on the condition of anonymity.

Water pollution, old pipes and private sector siphoning of water resources all represent major obstacles to addressing tap water quality.

Liu Wenjun, former director of the Tsinghua University’s Drinking Water Safety Institute, said that in contrast to other countries, the question of feasibility comes after investment plans and projects are issued.

Read the original article here in the Wall Street Journal Market Watch.

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