Status of water resources in China

Status of water resources in China

China’s per capita water resources are about 2,300m3, which is equivalent to 1/4 of the world’s per capita and 1/5 of that of the United States. It is one of the 13 water-poor countries with very few per capita water resources in the world. China’s agriculture is short of 30 billion cubic meters of water annually, while cities are short of 6 billion cubic meters of water. Because of water shortage, industry loses about 200 billion yuan every year, and agriculture loses about 150 billion yuan.

According to a Greenpeace report, in the past 24 years, glaciers on China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau have melted by 3,000km2. At this rate, by 2050, half of China’s existing glaciers will melt, and by 2100, all of China’s glaciers will disappear.

According to the analysis of “Water Supply and Demand in China in the 21st Century” by the Ministry of Water Resources, in 2010, the total water demand of China’s industry, agriculture, living and ecological environment was 698.8 billion cubic meters in moderate drought years, the total water supply was 667 billion cubic meters, and the water shortage was 31.8 billion cubic meters. This shows that after 2010, China will begin to enter a period of severe water shortage.

According to the internationally recognized standard, the per capita water resources less than 3000m3 are mild water shortage; the per capita water resources less than 2000m3 are moderate water shortages; the per capita water resources less than 1000m3 are severe water shortages; the per capita water resources less than 500m3 are extremely water shortages. Among the more than 660 cities in China, 400 suffer from water shortages to varying degrees, and more than 100 suffer from severe water shortages. Among the 14 coastal open cities, 9 are severely water-deficient; among the 32 megacities with a population of more than one million, 30 suffer from chronic water shortages; among the 46 key cities, 45.6% have poor water quality.

According to the “Research Report on China’s Sustainable Development of Water Resources”, by 2030, the total amount of urban industrial water and urban domestic water in the country will reach 132 billion cubic meters, an increase of nearly 70 billion cubic meters from the current level; the total water demand of the national economy will reach 700 billion to 800 billion cubic meters; while the actual available water resources are only 800 billion to 950 billion cubic meters, and the water demand is close to the limit of available water. From the autumn and winter of 2009 to the spring of 2010, drought continued in southwestern China. The rippling streams and lakes in the past dried up and cracked. The yield of 100 million mu of fertile land was severely reduced or even no grains were harvested. Tens of millions of residents had difficulty drinking water. In order to solve the shortage of water, the drilling depth of the drought relief troops has reached 1400m.

As surface water sources continue to dry up, some cities have to use groundwater. There are more than 400 cities in the country that exploit and utilize groundwater, which accounts for 30% of the total urban water consumption. The national average over-exploitation of groundwater for many years is 7.4 billion cubic meters. There are 164 over-exploitation areas with an area of 182,000 square kilometers. The groundwater level has been declining year by year to an extremely serious level. In the 1950s, water wells in Beijing could tap water at a depth of about 5m below the surface, and now the average depth of 40,000 wells in Beijing is 49m. According to the current pumping rate, in 10 to 15 years, many places will pump water to the bedrock, which means that the water source for urban underground water supply will disappear forever.

Water pollution in China is also particularly serious, with 70% of rivers polluted, 75% of lakes suffering from varying degrees of eutrophication, and about 300 million people cannot drink clean water. China’s total waste and sewage discharge accounts for 10% of the world’s total, and the waste and sewage discharge per unit of output value is three times the world average, and 80% of it is discharged into rivers, rivers, lakes and seas without proper treatment. After monitoring 532 rivers in China, 436 rivers are polluted to varying degrees. Among the seven major water systems (Yangtze River, Yellow River, Huaihe River, Songhua River, Haihe River, Liaohe River and Pearl River), the tributaries of the Yangtze River were slightly polluted, the tributaries of the Yellow River and Songhua River were heavily polluted, and the Huaihe and Haihe basins were severely polluted. About 60 percent of the water in the Big Seven is rated Category IV or worse, meaning it is not suitable for human contact.

Pollution also exacerbates water scarcity. In the Pearl River Delta region and the Yangtze River Delta region, which were rich in water resources in the past, water quality-based water shortages have also occurred in recent years, and a considerable amount of water has become unusable due to serious pollution. Contamination has also extended to aquifers, which are estimated to be 25 percent polluted.

China’s offshore waters are also seriously polluted. The monitoring of 18 marine ecological monitoring areas showed that the major bays, estuaries and coastal wetland ecosystems were all in unhealthy or sub-healthy states. The area of the national sea area that does not meet the water quality standard of clean sea area is 139,000 square kilometers, of which the area of severely polluted sea area is about 29,000 square kilometers. According to the monitoring of Dalian Bay by Dalian and Kitakyushu of Japan, a total of 220 kinds of organic pollutants have been detected, of which 47 are dangerous substances that are prioritized by the United States.