China Environmental News Digest

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Salt flooding shows cost of rapid growth

China Daily 2005-12-30 06:02

You wake up and want to drink a glass of water to quench your thirst but the water is too salty to drink. This is how mornings get off to a bad start for some residents of Guangdong Province, as the most serious saltwater tide in 20 years has recently hit many cities along the Pearl River.

Sea water flooding into rivers and lakes has caused a rapid increase in salt levels in fresh water resources, posing a serious threat to the potability of the drinking water of millions.

Serious drought has been cited as the major cause of the calamity. Because of the drought, the water level of various rivers dropped dramatically, meaning they do not have enough water to cancel out the effects of the influx of salty water.

It is absolutely right to call it a battle between fresh water in rivers and salty water from the ocean.

The rise of sea levels, primarily caused by global warming, has helped force the seawater assault while drastically increased water consumption has aggravated the problem of the lack of fresh water.

The population of Guangdong had increased from 52.28 million in 1980 to 78.58 million in 2002. As a result the consumption of water has risen dramatically. Statistics indicate the annual growth rate of water consumption has been 5 per cent over the past two decades.

Of the annual average consumption of 46 billion cubic metres, industrial production and daily life require 44.7 per cent, compared to 12.4 per cent at the end of the last decade.

Unfortunately, 16.75 billion cubic metres or 37.5 per cent is wasted, according to experts from the provincial bureau of water resources. Car washing is said to be a major drain, using 10 million cubic metres a year. The remainder of consumption is accounted for by agricultural uses, such as watering crops.

Guangdong is among a few provinces that have not adopted measures to introduce graduated prices for water use and different quotas to encourage awareness of saving water among residents.

Early this year, to stem the flow of salt water, Guangdong diverted water from neighbouring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guizhou Province. The diverted water rushed more than 1,000 kilometres to drive back the sea water, but at a high cost.

The saltwater tide is a natural calamity that occurs every year in the dry season. But undoubtedly, rapid economic development, a lack of concern about saving water and the preservation of water resources have aggravated the disaster, which has begun to occur more frequently and pose a much greater threat to daily life than previously.

What the local government should do is to try its best to save water, promote awareness of saving water and improve the capacity of its reservoirs and dams to preserve more fresh water for emergencies.

In addition, something must be done to improve the local environment, such as planting more trees and grass along the Pearl River and cutting down on the discharge of pollutants.

With a better environment, the Pearl River will be able to put up a stronger defence against natural calamities.

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