Beijing Water Supply Threatened by Upriver Garbage

BEIJING, China

A 23,000-square meter trash heap in Henan province is leaching garbage into a river that feeds Yangzhuang reservoir every time heavy rains hit the region.

Yangzhuang reservoir connects to Jinhai lake, the main source of drinking water for Beijing’s more than 20 million people.

The local government built a dam near the site to stop the flow of trash. However, residents told Beijing News that it is ineffective.

“It is designed to stop rain from flushing refuse into the lower reaches, but it is absolutely useless,” a resident from Longwo village was quoted as saying.

However, scientists are more concerned about leachate from the dumpsite, which is located within a valley. The Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences’ Zhao Zhangyuan said valleys are not suitable sites for garbage dumps, since they are likely soft rock beds that allow pollutants to leach through soil into groundwater.

Chen Liwen, a researcher for Green Beagle Environment Institute, agreed that heavy metal pollution in the soil would gradually accumulate to quantities above safety levels.

The Qingsonglin rubbish dump was in operation for Xinglong county from 1989 until its closure in 2009. Urban Management Bureau officials responsible for overseeing the closed site could not be reached for comment, according to Beijing News.

This is just the latest of China’s water pollution problems to make the news in recent weeks.

More than 16,000 dead pigs have been pulled out of the Huangpu River near Shanghai over the last few weeks. Water and food contamination concerns have been growing -- the Huangpu River is a major drinking water sources for Shanghai’s 23 million residents.

However, the government has repeatedly claimed that both the river water and the tap water tests in Shanghai show it has not been polluted.

Meanwhile, a survey released at the beginning of March by the Chinese Ministry of Land and Water Resources revealed that 70 percent of the groundwater in the North China Plain is severely polluted.

It divided groundwater into two categories, “shallow” and “deep” and found similar levels of contamination for both.

In February, the Chinese government finally admitted that its decades of unbounded water, air and land pollution led to the existence of “cancer villages,” where the rates of cancer are exponentially higher than in other areas.

“In recent years, toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters, cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as ‘cancer villages’,” according to a document recently released by the country’s Environment Ministry, whose contents were reported by official news agency Xinhua.

The water pollution problem is so severe in China that some experts say the massive investment that government plans to spend over the next decade -- $850 billion USD -- will not make much of a difference. China spent $112.41 billion USD on water infrastructure from 2006-2010, and much of the water is still undrinkable.

“The reason why they have achieved so little even though they have spent so much on pollution treatment is because they have followed the wrong urbanization model -- China is still putting too much pressure on local resources," Zhou Lei, a fellow at Nanjing University who has studied water pollution, was quoted as saying.

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