Smog may be eas­ing, but in parts of China wa­ter qual­ity wors­ens

Read­ings in some re­gions show marked fall in wa­ter qual­ity

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

SHANG­HAI/BEI­JING: China is mak­ing progress in bat­tling the dam­ag­ing smog that can shroud its big cities, but in many ar­eas - from parts of the gi­ant Yangtze river to the coal­fields of In­ner Mon­go­lia - its wa­ter pol­lu­tion is get­ting worse. De­spite com­mit­ments to crack down on pol­luters, the qual­ity of wa­ter in rivers, lakes and reser­voirs in sev­eral re­gions has de­te­ri­o­rated sig­nif­i­cantly, ac­cord­ing to in­spec­tion teams re­port­ing back to the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Protection (MEP). In doc­u­ments pub­lished this week, in­spec­tors found that a fifth of the wa­ter in the Yangtze’s feeder rivers in one province was un­us­able, and thou­sands of tons of raw sewage were be­ing de­posited into one river in north­east­ern Ningxia each day. Wor­ried about un­rest, China launched its war on pol­lu­tion in 2014, vow­ing to re­verse the dam­age done to its skies, rivers and soil by more than three decades of break­neck in­dus­trial growth. “We still have a lot of work to do,” vice-min­is­ter Zhao Ying­min said at a press brief­ing on Fri­day. “First, I’d say the point of in­spec­tions is to dis­cover prob­lems, and in­deed we dis­cov­ered in some places wa­ter qual­ity has got­ten sig­nif­i­cantly worse,” he said, not­ing, though, that the over­all sit­u­a­tion was im­prov­ing. Over the first nine months of this year, 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 ago, Zhao said.

Tight sup­ply

China has long been wor­ried about a wa­ter sup­ply bot­tle­neck that could jeop­ar­dize fu­ture eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Per capita sup­plies are less than a third of the global av­er­age. A sur­vey pub­lished by the MEP last year showed that nearly two thirds of un­der­ground wa­ter and a third of sur­face wa­ter was un­suit­able for hu­man con­tact, with much of it con­tam­i­nated by fer­til­izer run-offs, heavy met­als and un­treated sewage. China’s pri­or­ity, though, has been air pol­lu­tion, es­pe­cially in in­dus­tri­al­ized re­gions like Bei­jing and He­bei, and it said this week that con­cen­tra­tions of harm­ful small par­ti­cles, known as PM2.5, fell 12.5 per­cent in Jan­uary Oc­to­ber. “With air, you stop pol­lu­tion at the source, and the blue skies come back in­stantly,” said Ma Jun, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs, which mon­i­tors Chi­nese wa­ter pol­lu­tion. “For wa­ter, you can stop pol­lu­tion at the source, but you still have the pol­luted sed­i­ment and the soil that is go­ing to leech into the wa­ter, and it’s go­ing to take much longer.”

‘Be­low grade 5’

China grades its wa­ter in five cat­e­gories. Grade three and above is deemed safe for di­rect hu­man con­tact, while grades four and five can only be used in in­dus­try and agri­cul­ture. Wa­ter “be­low grade five” has “lost all func­tion­al­ity”. In an ac­tion plan pub­lished last year, the gov­ern­ment vowed to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity na­tion­wide by 2030, and it aims to bring large vol­umes of un­us­able “be­low grade five” wa­ter back into the econ­omy.

While im­prove­ments have been made in the past five years, China’s grow­ing de­mand for wa­ter has put in­creas­ing pres­sure on its lim­ited re­sources, and sources of pol­lu­tion have not been put un­der ad­e­quate con­trol, said vice-min­is­ter Zhao. This week, the top coal pro­duc­ing province of Shanxi re­vealed that 29 of the 100 sur­face wa­ter sites tested be­tween Jan­uary and Septem­ber were found to be “be­low grade five”, with wa­ter in the city of Da­tong de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sharply over the pe­riod. In the man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­house of Jiangsu near Shang­hai on the east­ern coast, in­spec­tors found that the Yangtze, China’s long­est river, wasn’t be­ing pro­tected. They said 20.5 per­cent of wa­ter sam­ples taken from feeder rivers were “be­low grade five” last year, an in­crease of 11.4 per­cent­age points in a year. The num­ber of sur­face wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing sites met­ing state stan­dards in the coal pro­duc­ing re­gion of In­ner Mon­go­lia fell by 7.7 per­cent­age points, and the num­ber cat­e­go­rized as “be­low grade five” rose by more than three per­cent­age points. In Ningxia in the north­west, another grow­ing coal pro­ducer, wa­ter at two lakes had de­te­ri­o­rated from grade three to “be­low grade five”, and in­spec­tors found that 6,400 tonnes of raw sewage was be­ing de­posited into one river each day. Am­mo­nia and phos­phate con­cen­tra­tions in one reser­voir in ru­ral Guangxi in the south­west, dou­bled last year as a re­sult of pol­lu­tion from farm­ing and fish­ing, the min­istry said. China said this year it would spend 430 bil­lion yuan ($62.4 bil­lion) on around 4,800 sep­a­rate projects aimed at im­prov­ing the qual­ity of its wa­ter sup­plies, though it did not give a time­frame. “You need in­fra­struc­ture, and there is a deficit that we have to catch up ... but the prob­lem is how to find the mo­ti­va­tion to clean up and be­have prop­erly, and stop pol­lu­tion at the source,” said Ma at the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs.

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