Beijing Water

China faces its worst economic crisis: water

(July 31, 2013) Water woes ranging from polluted drinking water to contaminated groundwater reserves and toxic rivers, to cross-border water disputes with neighbours over transboundary river flows, are moving China towards a catastrophe with “profound implications.” In testimony to the U.S. Senate last week, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia director Elizabeth Economy names industry as the key culprit. The Wall Street Journal’s reports.

By Michael Kitchen for The Tell,, published on July 31, 2013

China has a serious problem, bigger than the slowdown in manufacturing growth or the housing-price bubble. It’s water, and it’s a catastrophe that could affect the rest of Asia and the larger world.

In testimony to the U.S. Senate last week, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia director Elizabeth Economy said China is facing a water crisis with “profound implications” if the government doesn’t get a grip on it over the next few years.

According to China’s own water-resources officials, more than 400 Chinese cities lacked enough water last year, with 110 of those facing “serious scarcity.”

The key culprit is industry, which Economy said uses 4 to 10 times more water per unit of GDP than similar economies and is polluting the nation’s existing water resources at an alarming rate.

She cited a February 2013 report by the Geological Survey of China saying a full 90% of the country’s groundwater was polluted, while the Ministry of Environmental Protection said the water from about 25% of China’s major river systems was so filthy that it couldn’t be even used for industry or agriculture.

Read the full article on the publisher’s website here.

Listen to an interview with Elizabeth Economy on Chris Riback’s “Conversations with Thinkers” here.

Further Reading

For details on China’s water crisis see Probe International’s Beijing’s Water Crisis 1949 – 2008 Olympics 2010 Update and Oral Histories.

For solutions to water pollution and methods for effective and accountable wastewater treatment see Water Markets.

For Probe International’s recent study on wastewater contamination of the Three Gorges reservoir see An Investigation Into Wastewater Treatment in the
Three Gorges Reservoir Basin by the Chongqing Green Volunteers Association.

Beijing’s new water polluter – the suburbs
A new study reveals that sewage treatment facilities in Beijing’s suburbs are below standard and poorly regulated.

Key source in giant Chinese water scheme polluted
The Danjiangkou Reservoir, a major supply source for China’s high-cost South-North Water Diversion project — slated to provide Beijing with water by 2014 — is heavily polluted with untreated sewage.

Company taps clean energy in Tibet
China’s bid to secure its energy needs is leading to Tibet, where a subsidiary of one of China’s largest state-owned electric utilities has inked a deal to develop the region’s solar and hydroelectric power resources.

A drop in China’s dirty water bucket
No city in China provides safe tap water to all of its residents, claims a report by Caixin Online. Water treatment is too costly for city budgets, say some officials; others say even when properly treated, old pipes compromise tap water.

Beijing family boycotts city’s tap water
Official figures show that in just 50 years the city’s per capita water resources have dropped to less than 100 cubic metres per capita – one tenth of the global average (as recently as 2008 the Beijing Water Authority put per capita water resources at under 300 cubic metres).

China’s river pollution “a threat to people’s lives
About 20 percent of rivers were so polluted their water quality was rated too toxic even to come into contact with. “The deterioration of water quality has threatened the safety and health of people, while the water quality problem has limited the economic and social development and people’s lives.”

New effort to ease fears over water quality
“The water quality usually deteriorates after going through the water distribution system. Usually the intensity of microorganisms witnesses a slight increase during the transmission.” If sewage leaks occur, the water will be seriously polluted. “It is necessary for the government to check the pipes more often and come up with a set of emergency plans.”

Old pipes may taint Beijing water
“It’s a giant step forward that the government has started making the test results available to the public. However, what measures to take when water pollution occurs or the index fails to meet the standard is more important.”

Watered down truth
“Some local officials worried that if the public knew the truth, they would run riot. So they kept the truth from the public and lost its trust.”

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