Will China’s efforts to save water resources be too late?

22 February 2013

Droplets has reported on many occasions about the efforts being made in China to reverse the ravages of eutrophication (= nutrient enrichment from wastewater, industry and agriculture) in its lakes and rivers.  More than 70% of China’s lakes are seriously impaired, with water quality in some not even fit for industrial use.  Massive supplies of water, such as are stored in Lake Taihu, are a continuous health hazard.

Eutrophication, once entrenched, is extremely difficult to reverse, a process that can take decades.  China has invested or intends to invest a massive amount of funding in an effort to set back the course of time, but is it too late?  Catholic Online reports that:

Large outlays of cash to improve water quality in China may do little to reverse damage after decades of pollution and overuse. China’s bid for industrial dominance may carry a very heavy price tag, indeed.

The Chinese government plans to spend $850 billion to improve filthy water supplies over the next 10 years. China is also promising to invest 650 billion, which is equal to its entire stimulus package during the global financial crisis on rural water projects alone during the 2011-2020 periods. At least $200 billion in additional funds has been earmarked for cleanup projects nationwide.

Chinese waterways are now blighted by algae blooms caused by fertilizer run-off, bubbling chemical spills and untreated sewage discharges. In the five years leading up to 2010, the country spent $112.41 billion on water infrastructure. Sadly, much of its water remains undrinkable. The environment ministry said 43 percent of the locations it was monitoring in 2011 contained water that was not even fit for human contact.

The problem is not limited to China.  Many countries, of which South Africa is one, already have regions where eutrophication is firmly embedded and nothing meaningful is being done to reverse the process.  Efforts to attenuate the  problem must focus on the source, e.g. agricultural runoff management, as opposed to end-of-pipe cosmetic efforts (example) that equate to “living with the problem”. Given the costs of inaction, many economies will be crippled by the failure to heed the warnings that have been around for decades now.  Personally I cannot see that China will be able to do very much at all.

On the CyanoAlert front, Mother’s Beach in Mornington (Victoria, Australia) has been closed due to an algal bloom.  Also in Victoria, a number of waters in the Greater Geelong area, viz.

  • Lake Lorne, Drysdale
  • Blue Waters Lake, Ocean Grove
  • McLeods Waterholes, Drysdale
  • Seascape Drive Wetland, Indented Head
  • Ashwood Close Wetland, Ocean Grove

have been listed as problematical.  In the Gippsland area, blue-green algae have similarly impaired use of the Hazelwood Pondage.  There is also a warning about marine algal blooms in the North Haven region of New South Wales.

In New Zealand (Australia and New Zealand are the only southern hemisphere nations that routinely report the presence of toxic algal blooms), elevated risks have been reported for the Wairarapa district and for a section of the Opihi River.


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