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Water shortages looming in regions
( 2003-10-06 09:16) (China Daily)

Without prompt and effective measures either to replenish or reduce the use of underground water supplies, many Chinese cities are expected to suffer from severe water shortages, along with associated environmental problems, in the near future.

A group of experts from the China Institute for Geo-Environment Monitoring warned of this in a recent exclusive interview with China Daily.

"The constant drought in most Chinese regions since 1999 has caused the underground water tables of many Chinese cities to decrease to an alarming level,'' said Hao Aibing, a senior engineer with the institute.

"It is time for resolute moves to save some underground water for tomorrow.''

Of China's 600-odd cities, over 60 per cent have their water supplies heavily relying on underground water. In North and Northwest China, underground water accounts for, respectively, 72 per cent and 66 per cent of the general water supply of the cities there on average.

The number of Chinese cities suffering from insufficient water sources, both surface and underground, has been counted at 106. Now the institute is warning of a further increase of the number against the backdrop of the drought, as well as deterioration in the already difficult situation in a number of cities on the shortage list.

"Without much rainfall, the underground water tables cannot get replenished enough from surface sources as in the old days. But as much, if not more, continues to be exploited,'' said Gao Cunrong, another senior engineer with the institute.

Gao cited Tangshan, a major industrial city in North China's Hebei Province as an example, where the excessive exploitation of water resources has caused local water tables to decrease by 230 million cubic metres every year.

This poses a real dilemma for the local government, said Gao. "Because on one hand, large-scale exploitation of underground water in Tangshan had better be stopped, but on the other hand, the exploitation cannot be stopped, if the city wants to move on as usual.''

"Earth subsidence is a problem confronting many cities across the country, especially those in North China and the Yangtze River delta,'' said Hao.

He used North China as an example, where a giant funnel has been formed and quickly expanding under its vast land. "The area of the funnel was 48,700 square kilometres in the year 1993, but had increased to 64,000 square kilometres by last year. The trend is continuing,'' said Hao.

But earth subsidence is not the only negative consequence of underground water over-exploitation. The reduced amount of underground water means that local government needs to adopt stricter measures to curb pollution, because the same amount of pollutants now have less water to dilute, said Xu Huizhen, an expert who specializes on the monitoring of underground water pollution for the institute.

To tackle the situation, the institute has suggested a package of measures to the State Council to ensure the sustainability of underground water supplies. For example, higher water use fees, which would be aimed at curbing the wasting of water, and wider use of water-saving facilities in industries, agriculture and civil life.

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