Oct 12, 2012 01:08 PM

Seas of Sewage


(Beijing) – Every day, roughly half of the sewage from over 10 million people in Wuhan swell the city's pipes and empty directly into the Yangtze River. And the one thing that continues to spring eternal is contaminated wastewater.

Throughout the country, there are wastewater treatment plants operating at below capacity, or sometimes not at all, largely due to huge discrepancies in the building of water treatment plants versus sewage pipe networks.

The Hubei Province city's nine water treatment centers can barely process the 2.36 million tons of wastewater generated on a daily basis. Meanwhile, several facilities including a wastewater pump built with funds from the Asian Development Bank sit completely idle. Wang Chibing, chief of the Sewage Disposal division at the Wuhan Water Conservancy Bureau, said in April that the city would require massive amounts of investment to update its water infrastructure system, adding that he did not believe a reconstruction would be possible in the short term.

In other cities, water treatment levels are at zero. The Baiyun district of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province has seen small factories dump hazardous waste directly into waterways for decades. Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, pumps more than 400,000 tons of wastewater into the once-scenic Dian Lake. No water treatment plants have been set up in surrounding counties or towns.

China's waters are getting spoiled by sewage at a rapid rate, a reality that has long been acknowledged by authorities. In 2004, a special supervision team from the National People's Congress Standing Committee found that only one third of the 700 water treatment plants nationwide were operating at standard capacity, while one third were running at below capacity. The remaining one third was found to be operating intermittently, if at all.

Su Shipeng, professor and director of the Administrative Management Department of Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, has tracked the development of water infrastructure in China for decades. Su said at present, around 10 to 15 percent of water treatment facilities are operating at below capacity and that the low rate of water processing is still a major concern. 

"That's the situation for many plants. The water treatment plants are handling much less than they are designed to process, and some are not running at all," said Yao Zewei, vice president of Shanghai Safebon Water Service. He added that many sewage treatment plants in Shanghai Municipality, and Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces only reach 30 to 40 percent of their processing capacity during daily operations, with just a few hitting 50 to 60 percent. In the past decade, the construction of water treatments plants has far outpaced upgrades to pipe networks. "Now new communities are being built at an amazing speed, but sewage disposal infrastructure has not kept up," said Yao.

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