Shanghai water shortage worsens : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Water shortage worsens

By Panyao Tian, Shanghai Star. 2001-03-29 Domestic and industrial sewage leads to steady pollution of water supply A young worker sprays a vehicle with water on Wanhangdu Lu. There are at least 1,500 car washes in Shanghai, which consume 10 million tons of water each year.

CHINA'S 14th Water Week came to a close yesterday, but the question remains: What have we really learned?

Living in a city facing the East China Sea, surrounded by over 22,000 big and small rivers, and where rain is as common as sunshine, it is not easy for people to take seriously the threat of water shortage.

"I have got used to keeping the tap running while brushing my teeth or washing the dishes. I just want the toilet to be cleaner, my car as well-groomed as myself..." said a high-ranking executive in a joint venture firm.

He is not alone in this case. Many people tell themselves not to worry about the "exhaustible water." The only difference for them is a few more yuan every month on their water bill.

They doubt that Shanghai faces a water shortage, since the amount of water in the area annually is 69,603 cubic metres per capita, far exceeding the national average of 2,220 cubic metres.

However, the city has been added to the United Nations list of six cities that will experience severe drinking-water problems this century.

Only 20 per cent of the water from rivers is drinkable, which lowers the available amount to local residents to just 1,050 cubic metres per capita - 60 per cent less than the nation's average and 10 per cent of the global average.

"The shortage of quality water has to be taken seriously, because it will soon be a block to the sustainable development of the city," said Zhang Jiayi, director general of Shanghai Water Affairs Bureau.

Zhang said it is a big mistake for people to talk about the water shortage problem while they continue using quality water to irrigate farm land, clean streets and wash vehicles.

There are more than 1,500 car-washes in the city, which consume as much as 10 million tons of water each year.

Besides wasteful consumption of so much clean water, pollutants discharged by restaurants, beauty saloons and large bathing rooms are also to blame for contaminated water.

Nearly 20 per cent of the water pipes in the city leak and the 900,000 old toilets used in the city are estimated to waste millions of tons of water in a year.

"Such deterioration, if not properly handled, will hasten the coming water shortage crisis in the city," said Huang Jianzhi, deputy director of the Municipal Construction and Management Commission.

Huang said that, except at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai itself has almost no water resources that can meet Class II Standard (Drinkable water must be Class II Standard or above.)

Colibacillus from domestic sewage is one of the main reasons area water is below drinking standard. Nearly 1.1 billion tons of sewage is dumped into the water around the city every year.

Additional waste from poultry farms, equal to sewage produced by 8 million people annually, also poisons the water.

"Most of the fecal sewage from the poultry farms is discharged directly into rivers," said Su Guodong, deputy director of the Water Environment and Natural Conservation Division under Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau.

"The treatment of such sewage has become a primary task for environmental protectors in Shanghai," he said.

Relocating these farms from urban areas, where they are close to the drinking water source, to places with more land and far from the downtown area is an important step in tackling this pollution.

Su said by moving them, the sewage can be collected and treated as fertilizer for agriculture. Among 1,000 poultry farms in the city's environs, only about 100 have been dealt with, so far.

"Water pollution is the major reason for the shortage problem of the city, which should arouse much more concern from the government and the public," said Gu Shenghua of the Municipal Hydrological General Station.

The city discharges nearly 5.8 million cubic metres of sewage daily, over 3 million cubic metres of which are treated by processors before entering the rivers and the sea. The rest is dumped untreated into the sea, Gu said.

Industry is still the leading producer of sewage due to its low usage ratio. Producing one ton of steel requires 20 to 60 cubic metres of water in Shanghai while in the US and Japan only 6 cubic metres of water is required.

Apart from the pollution caused by industrial and domestic sewage, water quality is also affected by the encroachment of sea water into the steadily dropping level of ground water.

"Every year from December to April, when the dry season comes, sea water flows into the rivers, which affects much the quality of the water," said Liang Hong with the water authority.

That is why the city requires factories which draw water from underground to return twice the amount of treated water to underground aquifers to maintain the water level and prevent the city from sinking.

Since 1998, the city has made it priority to treat the filthy water in its rivers and creeks, investing over 1.4 billion yuan ($169 million) in the cleanup process.

"Shanghai now has about 30 sewage treatment plants, with a projected capacity of about 1 million tons a day. But the actual daily volume of treated sewage is only 600,000 tons," said Huang Hongliang, a senior engineer with Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau.

"This is largely due to the incomplete drainage network. The deficiency of branch drainage reduces the amount of the collected and treated sewage to less than expected," Huang said.

Much of the untreated waste is discharged directly into the Huangpu River system, which has for years remained at Class III to Class V quality.

A plant with the daily capacity to treat 400,000 tons of sewage, is under construction at Shidongkou, and is expected to go online by 2002. Another plant, capable of handling 1.7 millions tons of sewage daily, is planned for Zhuyuankou.

The city is also gearing up to recycle waste water and use more rain-water in some manufacturing processes and to wash vehicles, water plants and irrigate fields.

The efforts have paid off already. According to Vice Mayor Han Zheng, some of the area rivers are cleaner and clearer after several years of cleanup work.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 03, 2001

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