River sys­tems a chal­lenge for China

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS - By KARL WIL­SON

While China has be­gun to make progress in bat­tling the smog that shrouds many of its ma­jor cities, the state of the coun­try’s river sys­tems con­tin­ues to get worse.

Late last year, China’s Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion said the qual­ity of wa­ter in rivers, lakes and reser­voirs in sev­eral re­gions has de­te­ri­o­rated sig­nif­i­cantly.

In Novem­ber, the min­istry pub­lished doc­u­ments where its in­spec­tors found 20 per­cent of the wa­ter in the Yangtze’s feeder rivers in one prov­ince was un­us­able.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Vice-Min­is­ter Zhao Ying­min told a me­dia brief­ing fol­low­ing the re­lease of the doc­u­ments.

“First, I would say the point of in­spec­tions is to dis­cover prob­lems, and in­deed we dis­cov­ered in some places wa­ter qual­ity has got­ten sig­nif­i­cantly worse but in other places the over­all sit­u­a­tion is im­prov­ing,” Reuters quoted Zhao as say­ing.

He said over the first nine months of 2016, 70.3 per­cent of sam­ples taken from 1,922 sur­face wa­ter sites around China could be used as drink­ing wa­ter, up 4 per­cent­age points from a year ear­lier.

Wa­ter has been a ma­jor prob­lem for China, with per capita sup­plies less than a third of the global aver­age.

An­a­lysts say China faces the prob­lem of try­ing to bal­ance its wa­ter use be­tween agri­cul­ture, which ac­counts for 65 to 70 per­cent of the coun­try’s wa­ter use, in­creased ur­ban­iza­tion and en­ergy sup­ply, all of which com­pete for this lim­ited re­source.

Added to the mix is cli­mate change, which al­ready has an im­pact on wa­ter sup­ply not only in China but through­out the re­gion.

The gov­ern­ment is now en­gaged in ma­jor en­gi­neer­ing projects to pipe wa­ter from the south of the coun­try to the drier north, in­clud­ing Bei­jing.

The cen­tral phase of the Southto-North Wa­ter Diver­sion Project opened two years ago, bring­ing wa­ter to Bei­jing via more than 1,200 kilo­me­ters of chan­nels and pipes.

Some an­a­lysts say, how­ever, that China can­not sim­ply en­gi­neer its way out of its wa­ter cri­sis with head­line megapro­jects that will never be big enough to keep pace with in­creas­ing de­mand.

A study pub­lished in Jan­uary 2015 in US jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Acad­emy of Sci­ences warned that large-scale wa­ter trans­fers would ac­tu­ally ex­ac­er­bate prob­lems in the long run.

“China needs to shift its fo­cus to wa­ter de­mand man­age­ment in­stead of a sup­ply-ori­ented ap­proach,” said the study’s co-au­thor, Dabo Guan, a pro­fes­sor at Eng­land’s Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia.

“(China’s) cur­rent trans­fer pro­gram is pour­ing good wa­ter af­ter bad: The prob­lems of wa­ter-stressed re­gions aren’t be­ing al­le­vi­ated and the prov­inces shar­ing their wa­ter are suf­fer­ing greatly,” Guan said.

Pol­lu­tion is an­other fac­tor af­fect­ing wa­ter sys­tems.

The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy in a re­port, Be­yond the Source, pub­lished this month said wa­ter pol­lu­tion East Anglia pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­sity of

can be re­duced us­ing “na­ture­based so­lu­tions (pro­grams)” cost­ing as lit­tle as $2 per per­son an­nu­ally.

As Asian cities grap­ple with the im­me­di­ate chal­lenges of fresh­wa­ter sup­ply and pol­lu­tion, threat­en­ing wide-rang­ing im­pacts on health, pro­duc­tiv­ity and more, the con­ser­vancy has ex­am­ined a se­ries of low-cost, na­ture-based so­lu­tions that can ben­e­fit all stake­hold­ers, “if man­aged via in­no­va­tive wa­ter funds funded by di­verse in­vestors”.

It cites a pi­lot pro­gram, the Longwu Wa­ter Fund in Huanghu county in East China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince. It is China’s first such plat­form and com­bines a land trust with im­pact as­sess­ment, wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able farm­ing.

The study also an­a­lyzed the source wa­ter­sheds of more than 4,000 large cities around the world, in­clud­ing more than 1,800 in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. It found that na­ture-based pro­grams, such as re­for­esta­tion and im­proved agri­cul­tural prac­tices, can be im­ple­mented at a scale that makes a vis­i­ble dif­fer­ence in sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and im­proves the lives of bil­lions of peo­ple.

“Cities in Asia Pa­cific and around the world stand to gain high re­turns from a mod­est in­vest­ment in wa­ter pro­tec­tion, which can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce pol­lu­tion in wa­ter sources with mea­sur­able re­sults,” the study said.

“For half of the cities an­a­lyzed glob­ally, source wa­ter pro­tec­tion could cost just $2 or less per per­son per year.”

The study found that four out of five cities it ex­am­ined can re­duce sed­i­ment and nu­tri­ent pol­lu­tion by at least 10 per­cent through for­est pro­tec­tion, pas­ture­land re­for­esta­tion and use of cover crops as an agri­cul­tural prac­tice to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity.

“Source wa­ter­sheds col­lect, store and fil­ter wa­ter and, when man­aged well, pro­vide a num­ber of ad­di­tional ben­e­fits to peo­ple and na­ture.

“Pro­tect­ing the land around our wa­ter sources is crit­i­cal to en­sur­ing our wa­ter sup­plies for the fu­ture,” said Gi­ulio Boc­caletti, global man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of TNC’s wa­ter pro­gram.

“Un­for­tu­nately, 40 per­cent of source wa­ter­shed ar­eas show high to mod­er­ate lev­els of degra­da­tion.

“More than 30 per­cent of the area en­com­passed by ur­ban source wa­ter­sheds in Asia is highly mod­i­fied by hu­man de­vel­op­ment.”

Glob­ally, the re­port es­ti­mates that an in­crease of be­tween $42 bil­lion and $48 bil­lion an­nu­ally from the cur­rent $24.6 bil­lion ex­pen­di­ture on wa­ter­shed en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vice

China needs to shift its fo­cus to wa­ter de­mand man­age­ment in­stead of a sup­ply-ori­ented ap­proach.”

pay­ment pro­grams is re­quired to achieve an ad­di­tional 10 per­cent of sed­i­ment and nu­tri­ent re­duc­tion in 90 per­cent of source wa­ter­sheds.

“With this level of fund­ing, wa­ter se­cu­rity could be im­proved for at least 1.4 bil­lion peo­ple by fo­cus­ing on the most cost-ef­fec­tive wa­ter­sheds for wa­ter se­cu­rity pur­poses,” the re­port said.

“The cost of source wa­ter pro­tec­tion could be cov­ered by re­veal­ing ben­e­fits to di­verse pay­ers through the busi­ness case for wa­ter funds.

“Wa­ter funds, which en­able down­stream wa­ter users to fund up­stream land con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion, are high­lighted as a suc­cess­ful mech­a­nism for se­cur­ing im­proved wa­ter qual­ity and in some cases more re­li­able flows.”

The re­port high­lights that one in six cities, roughly 690 cities serv­ing more than 433 mil­lion peo­ple glob­ally, have the po­ten­tial to fully off­set con­ser­va­tion costs through wa­ter treat­ment sav­ings alone.

Other cities can de­rive ad­di­tional value from co-ben­e­fits and “stack” the to­tal value to re­al­ize a pos­i­tive re­turn on in­vest­ment.

The key na­ture-based so­lu­tions out­lined by TNC’s anal­y­sis and case stud­ies in­clude tar­geted land pro­tec­tion, reveg­e­ta­tion, ri­par­ian (or river­bank) restora­tion, agri­cul­tural and ranch­ing best man­age­ment prac­tices, fire risk man­age­ment, wet­land restora­tion and cre­ation. Such meth­ods pre­serve plant and an­i­mal bio­di­ver­sity and build more re­silient and healthy com­mu­ni­ties by pro­tect­ing fish­eries and im­prov­ing farm­land.

In April 2015, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment listed 16 pi­lot sponge cities, or wa­ter-sen­si­tive cities. Over the next three years, the gov­ern­ment will al­lo­cate each sponge city about 400-600 mil­lion yuan ($58-87 mil­lion) to de­velop ponds, fil­tra­tion pools and wet­lands; and build per­me­able roads that en­able storm wa­ter to be ab­sorbed.


Garbage float­ing on the Yangtze River in Yichang, Cen­tral China’s Hubei prov­ince. Pol­lu­tion is a ma­jor prob­lem for China’s wa­ter sup­ply.

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