In The Field

ESA 2009: China’s water crisis

dujiangyan.jpgRoughly 100 billion cubic meters of groundwater is overexploited around Beijing. Nine years ago, that figure was 8 billion cubic meters.

Such were the dire numbers coming out of a presentation today by Ge Sun, a hydrologist at the US Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the state of China’s water crisis. In the Daxing district of Beijing along, the water table has dropped 1.3 meters per year between 2001 and 2007. (I checked my notes three times to make sure that ‘meters’ is correct there, hard as it seems to believe.) More than 1,000 natural lakes have vanished. Forty percent of the country’s rivers have become ephemeral. The rivers that manage to hang on are, more than half of them, polluted.

The factors are many: among them are population growth, mismanagement of land, increasing urbanization and low efficiency of using water, Sun said. And it was hard to miss the sense of urgency in his voice. Water resource issues and environmental disasters have become so rote in China over the past decades that it can be difficult — at least for me, a jaded journalist — to comprehend them getting any worse. But the economic boom in China is a whole new matter. Look at that number again of overexploited water in Beijing: 8 billion cubic meters in 2000, 100 billion cubic meters today. Where will we be in 2020?

Image: The 2,000-year-old Dujiangyan irrigation system in Sichuan province

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