Water ministry highlights groundwater problems

Excessive extraction and pollution of groundwater remain a problem in China, the minister of water resources, Wei Shanzhong, told a State Council press briefing on new groundwater regulations on Tuesday (23 November). 

Minister Wei stated that every province in the country is experiencing excessive water extraction. The most serious problems are on the North China Plain, home to Beijing, many other cities and a lot of industrial and agricultural production. 

Overall groundwater extraction in 2020 was, however, down to 89.2 billion cubic metres from a 2012 peak of 113.4 billion cubic metres. Mining too much water can lead to shortages, the drying up of rivers and lakes, ecosystem destruction and land subsidence.

On groundwater pollution, Minister Wei said the slow replenishment of sources and continued levels of extraction and pollution make the issue very difficult to tackle. Groundwater pollution comes from diverse and often hard-to-abate sources such as agriculture, heavy industry, mining and urban sewage.

The new regulations, publicly released earlier this month, focus on groundwater conservation, governance of water extraction and pollution prevention. It will implement a system of extraction permits, extraction measurement and taxes. It establishes areas where groundwater extraction will be banned or limited, as well as key areas for pollution prevention. It also establishes legal responsibility for excessive extraction and pollution.

Groundwater pollution has been a pressing environmental concern in China for over a decade. Read China Dialogue’s 2013 article on the issue here.