Groundwater 80% polluted

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-12 0:37:12

Authorities scramble to deny drinking water is unsafe

More than 80 percent of groundwater is not fit for human consumption, according to monitoring figures from at least one-third of China released Monday by the country's water authorities, who scrambled to deny that drinking water was unsafe.

In its most recent monthly report published Monday, and using data from January this year, China's Ministry of Water Resources said that of 2,103 monitored wells, water from 691, or 32.9 percent, was defined as Class IV water and that from 994 wells, or 47.3 percent, as Class V, which means that over 80 percent of the water is classified as not fit for human consumption.

Groundwater quality is categorized into five classes according to the Quality Standard for Groundwater of China. Class IV is suitable for industrial and agricultural use, while Class V water is defined as "not suitable for drinking."

The result was based on monitoring by the ministry in 2015 in the watersheds of major river systems, including the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers, and the 2,103 wells are located in the Songliao Basin in Northeast China, the Huang-huai-hai Plain in East China, and other basins and plains in Shanxi Province and Northwest China.

The report also shows that the problem of nitrate contamination is severe, and in some areas water is contaminated by heavy metals and toxic organic pollutants.

"The report shows that the issue of groundwater quality is very severe, since the samples are relatively wide-ranging, which can at least cover 30 to 50 percent of China," said Mu Jianxin if the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research.

The situation is much more serious in regions that depend more on groundwater for their water, like the northeastern provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Ada Kong, Toxics Campaign Manager for Greenpeace East Asia, told the Global Times. Class IV and V water accounts for more than 90 percent of the groundwater resources in those regions, according to the report.

"The pollution to groundwater will threaten local people's health and contaminate local crops. It could also cause a geological hazard as the overuse of groundwater could cause land subsidence," Kong said.

As the news began to go viral, an official from the water ministry denied that the contamination will affect drinking water.

Chen Mingzhong, director of the department of water resources under the Ministry of Water Resources, told a press conference on Monday in response to the report that "the quality of drinking water is generally good," as drinking water is mainly taken from deep groundwater, which is different from the samples that were measured. 

Impact on agriculture

Some experts disagreed with Chen's assessment, as groundwater at shallow depths can still negatively impact agriculture.

The level of contamination of groundwater will vary due to the different human activities in different geographic areas, Kong said.

"Shallow groundwater flows though cities, making it easier to be contaminated by agricultural non-point pollution, industrial waste and landfills," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, National Business Daily reported Monday.

Non-point pollution refers to that picked up by rain runoff or snowmelt which then drains into water bodies.  

The main reason for the contamination of shallow groundwater is the overuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizer in agriculture, which permeate the ground into irrigation water, Mu said.

It is particularly difficult to accurately monitor groundwater contamination and once polluted, it is difficult to deal with, and there is no comprehensive policy for the exploitation of groundwater in China, Kong noted.

"Unlike surface water that flows across administrative boundaries, it's usually hard to clarify whose duty it is to manage groundwater among governments of different administrative regions. In China it's also unclear whether the responsibility lies with the water ministry or the Ministry of Environmental Protection," Kong said.

Groundwater contamination could be controlled if the government takes immediate action, but as it stands, it will be almost impossible to improve water quality, as it is a very tricky problem to solve, said Mu.

In April 2015, China issued an action plan to improve the country's water quality over the next five years. The action plan stipulates that by 2020, 70 percent of the water in China's seven major rivers should be of good quality, the volume of bad quality groundwater across the country should be limited to 15 percent, and 95 percent of drinking water in cities should be safe and be of better quality, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

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