- Title: Smog may be easing, but in parts of China water quality worsens
- Date: 18th November 2016
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (NOVEMBER 18, 2016) (REUTERS) GREENPEACE TOXICS CAMPAIGNER, DENG TINGTING, WORKING AT COMPUTER DENG LOOKING ON
- Embargoed: 3rd December 2016 12:45
- Keywords: water China pollution fog smog quality environment Beijing
- Location: SHAOXING COUNTY, ZHEJIANG PROVINCE / LINYI, SHANDONG PROVINCE / BEIJING, CHINA
- City: SHAOXING COUNTY, ZHEJIANG PROVINCE / LINYI, SHANDONG PROVINCE / BEIJING, CHINA
- Country: China
- Topics: Environment
- Reuters ID: LVA00458Z0DON
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: 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 - it is water pollution that's 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).
"We still have a lot of work to do, overall our efforts so far mean that China's water quality is improving, but the situation is still very serious," Zhao Yingmin, deputy minister of MEP, said on Friday (November 18).
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 tonnes 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.
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.
China has long been worried about a water supply bottleneck that could jeopardise 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 fertiliser run-offs, heavy metals and untreated sewage.
China's priority, though, has been air pollution, especially in industrialised 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.
Deng Tingting, a Beijing-based toxics campaigner at Greenpeace, said that one of the main barriers to progress in China's fight against water pollution lies in local governments' failing to carry out their duties.
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.
Residents in Beijing said that controlling water pollution should be prioritised above air pollution.
"If it's air pollution, then you have to look at how many days on average it's polluted or what the probability is (for pollution), but if water is polluted, then it's always been polluted. Air (pollution) can be blown away by the wind when it's clean, but for water, as soon as it's polluted, then it's very serious, and it's very difficult to fix the situation," said Li Haiyan, a student from northwest Ningxia province.
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 meeting state standards in the coal producing region of Inner Mongolia fell by 7.7 percentage points, and the number categorised 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.
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