China’s Water Problems Continue to Grow Along With Economy

B. McPherson

China’s much publicized pig float in their showcase city of Shanghai is just the latest insult to their waterways. Floating, rotting carcasses can be fished out of the river water and barring new swine dumping, if that were all that polluted the river, it could be made safe again. The toxic soup of sewage, garbage and industrial waste fouls many of the great rivers of China and nothing seems effective in stopping it.

The fouling of China’s waterways will not be dealt with as long as those responsible for ensuring safe water ignore the problem and lie to the public. The authorities in Shanghai have declared the water with the putrid pigs, garbage, sewage and toxic chemicals safe to drink. The public doesn’t believe them, but is still forced to use the water for washing and cleaning. A river that flows through the industrial area of Shenzen is so polluted that the locals refer to it as the Black Dragon River. It supplies the drinking water for Hong Kong.

Twenty years ago I stayed at an upscale hotel in HK. Bottled water was provided and signs warned that tap water was not to be consumed. It looked clean enough, but I kept my mouth shut in the shower. The water in the toilet was another matter. When it flushed, it looked as if it hadn’t flushed. It was filthy then and it is hard to imagine how badly the water has deteriorated as the industrial economy has taken over.

Now the central government is jumping on the fracking bandwagon. They are forming partnerships with BigOil to lend their expertise in extracting shale gas. This process involves forcing large amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals and sand into shale beds deep underground. Each well in the fracking process uses about one million gallons of water. The water is forced back out of the hole as the natural gas is extracted. Where does one put one million gallons of “produced water” which is now toxic? Produced water may be forced into a disposal hole or it may be dumped into evaporation ponds. With the Chinese record of dealing with industrial waste to date, it is far more likely that it will be dumped into handy waterways.

The looming water crisis in China will soon become its primary domestic problem. Already whole villages are forced to consume water that is heavily polluted with cancer causing agents. See Cancer Villages.

Schemes have been put forward to redirect water from one catchment area to another, or to dam rivers in the Himalayas in order to have them flow into China rather than India or Nepal. Clean or dirty, there is not enough water for everyone. The water demands of widespread fracking in water short areas will only serve to exacerbate the problem.

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