By Benjamin Cost
Are the days of rinsing your mouth out with runoff from a chemical plant really over? The recent culmination of the Qingcaosha water project would lead you to believe that’s the case.
This long-awaited 17 billion RMB ($2.67 billion USD) reservoir project, providing water from the Yangtze river rather than the Huangpu, reportedly promises Shanghai residents access to purer, more potable drinking water.
Since October of this year, the 70-square-kilometer reservoir has been pumping 7.19 million cubic meters of water on a daily basis into the homes of approximately ten million people, little over a third of Shanghai’s population. By 2012, the 438 million cubic meter storage tank is projected to supply 70% of the city.
Purity pledge may not hold water
Though we’d like to think that all that H20 is as clean as Tibetan plateau glacier runoff, the water, located flush on the mouth of the Yangtze River, may unfortunately harbor more impurities than the scenic setting might suggest.
Experts state that while Qingcaosha water conforms to the Class Two National Potability Threshold, it contains unacceptable levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, elements known for spawning algae which can severely contaminate water supplies:
If these two elements [nitrogen and phosphorus] were taken into consideration, the water quality from Qingcaosha would fall to a class five level, the lowest possible score according to the environmental quality for surface water standards published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the General Administration of Quality Supervision in 2002.
Up to this point, water analysts were not required to factor in amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus (which measure 1.40 milligram per liter and 0.08 milligram per liter respectively, or at the class four standard for Qingcaosha water).
But beyond simple negligence and lack of thoroughness, the increasingly prevalent and slippery practice of consciously ignoring impurities to fulfill China’s purity standards may be to blame (a phenomenon which rings similar to issues of transparency on the air pollution front).
Overall, the purity predicament may not be as dire as when Shanghai’s water supplier was the Huangpu River (think dead bodies and Swamp Thing-level pollution). It’s a shame that the veritable Yangzte River-like flood of cash poured into the Qingcaosha project, combined with the four plus years it took to construct the monumental reservoir, succumbs to the pattern of shortcuts and negligence that now seem intrinsic to so many of Shanghai’s institutions, including building oversight and food, to name but two.
Read more about water on Shanghaiist here.