Industrial pollution and farming has rendered it unsuitable for human use
According to statistics reported by the Chinese media, more than 80% of the underground water in large river basins of mainland China is unfit for drinking or bathing because of contamination from industry and farming. This was first revealed in 2015, following the survey of 2.103 underground wells by the Water Resources Ministry, whose results were published for the first time in the Ministry’s official website. Most public attention in recent years has focused on the country’s severe air pollution, while underground water pollution is also very alarming, as about 400 out of 600 cities in the country use groundwater as their source of drinking water. It is worth mentioning that most of them draw from deeper reservoirs that were not part of this study, but many villages and small towns in the countryside depend on shallow wells like those were tested for the report.
“From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China,” said Dabo Guan, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain. “People in the cities, they see air pollution every day, so it creates huge pressure from the public. But in the cities, people don’t see how bad the water pollution is,” he said, adding that as more cities are forced to dig thousands of feet underground for clean water, the capacity of those deep aquifers is being taxed.
Is there any clean underground water after all?
The study found that 32.9% of the tested wells across areas mostly in Northern and Central China had Grade 4 quality water that is only fit for industrial uses. An additional 47.3% of wells were even worse, having Grade 5 quality, as contaminants like fluoride, manganese and compounds used in fungicides were found present in the water.
For years, the Chinese government has acknowledged that wells and underground water reserves were endangered by overuse as well as widespread contamination from industry and farming. However, the problem became so serious partially because the Water Resources Ministry and the Ministry of Environmental Protection haven’t yet clarified their roles and responsibilities in carrying out the National Groundwater Pollution Prevention Plan, according to Ada Kong, Greenpeace’s East Asia toxics campaign manager. The plan, issued in 2011, aimed to greatly limit the polluting of underground water resources by the end of this decade, promising 34 billion yuan ($5.2bn) in funding. It also said that China’s use of underground water almost doubled in recent years (from 57 billion m3 a year in the 1970s to 110 billion m3 in 2009), providing nearly 1/5 of the country’s total supplies.
Source: NY Times