China: As water demands grow sharply, supply is shrinking
China has 20 percent of the world's population, and 7 percent of its fresh water. As pressure mounts, officials are pushing conservation reforms such as reforestation and water taxes – and diverting water from the south to the north.
A 15-foot band of eroded red clay that surrounds Miyun Reservoir, one of Beijing’s largest sources of fresh water, serves as a stark reminder of the region’s severe water shortage.
Built 100 miles northeast of the capital in the 1960s, the reservoir has operated at less than a third of its capacity for years. A massive project now under way to divert water to Beijing from southern China will help alleviate demand, but protecting the reservoir from pollution remains a separate challenge.
China has 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its fresh water – and it is quickly running out of the vital fluid.
Efforts to boost supply have provided temporary relief for major cities, but the central government is scrambling to preserve what water is left. Expanded conservation work, higher water prices, and new industrial regulations are on the table.
Ms. Shen says the project is promising. But environmentalists warn that much more work is needed to ensure China’s water security. While forest restoration is far from a panacea for a problem so large, experts say it can help.
It’s the sort of projection of scarcity usually associated with countries on the Arabian Peninsula.
With public discontent mounting, the central government has grown increasingly aware of the looming water crisis. In 2011, it set a red line on total water use at 670 billion cubic meters by 2020 and 700 billion cubic meters by 2030.
Staying below those lines will be no small task. China Water Risk, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, says the country’s success will depend on reducing demand, increasing efficiency, and controlling pollution. Protecting existing water sources such as Miyun Reservoir are part of the plan.
Change is afoot. In April 2014, Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war on pollution” that has led to a crackdown on heavy polluters such petrochemical and metal smelting factories. The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) hit 160 factories with $18 million in pollution-related daily fines during the first four months of this year, according to China Water Risk.
“We expect the crackdown on pollution to intensify,” China Water Risk said in a report published in July, noting that the MEP has set aside more than $450 million to tackle heavy metal pollution in 30 cities this year.
Meanwhile, the government plans to introduce tiered pricing for residential water users nationwide this year. Beijing introduced a similar plan in 2014 and now charges three different rates based on a household’s annual water consumption.
Still, many environmentalists say that China has a long way to go. Decades of industrial development have left nearly a third of the country’s major rivers and 62 percent of its groundwater contaminated.
Forest restoration can help, but it’ll take years reverse the damage.
“At this moment we haven’t seen the turning point,” Mr. Ma says. “I think things will continue to get worse before they get better."
And will civilization survive while we wait for things to get better after they get worse??? Side effects of potable water shortages include dying animals, dying crops, famine, disease as increasingly contaminated water sources are used for ingestion and, ultimately, plenty of dying humans. Oh yeah, China faces a real pretty future, people.
But so does the USA. We're still pumping millions of foot acres of water each year and depleting groundwater at record levels to ship to the desert southwest and desert areas of California to support population growth, farming and ranching in those areas! How fricking stupid is that???