Shanghai Water Quality is a Concern

Shanghai expats need to be concerned about Shanghai water quality.

Fortunately, taking precautions against poor water quality is easier than tackling food safety and air quality issues. Simple steps can be taken to protect our health, including installing China water filters in our homes and offices.

We also have an article introducing you to the best drinking water filter technology for China.

We have a list of suppliers expats can contact for water filters in Shanghai below.

Here, first, we discuss why Shanghai water pollution is a concern.

Shanghai Water Quality scare in 2013

The incident of dead pig carcasses floating down the Huangpu River in March 2013 not only raised questions about food safety in Shanghai, but also about water quality in Shanghai.

More than 20 percent of Shanghai tap water is supplied from the Huangpu. A popular joke at the time was that Beijing residents could enjoy free smokes (cigarettes) just by going outside and breathing, while Shanghai residents could enjoy free pork soup just by turning on the tap.

Shanghai authorities, however, said regular testing showed there was minimal effect to tap water supply from this individual incident.

Shanghai Water

Reasons to be Fearful

There are, however, more serious reasons to be concerned about Shanghai water quality, mainly related to China's rapid industrialization and urbanization over the last 30 years.

It is widely known that some Chinese factories discharge their chemical waste without sufficient treatment into nearby water sources, while excessive fertilizer and chemical use in agriculture also finds its way into water supplies.

Local authorities are often accused of turning a blind eye to such infractions in the interest of local economic development over environmental protection.

According to a report released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in June 2013, the quality of underground water in 57.4 percent of the 4,929 monitoring points in 198 cities in 2012 was "relatively poor" or "extremely poor."

This figure increased to 59.6 percent in 2013 and then to 61.5 percent in 2014.

Even in regard to those water sources that did receive good ratings, Ling Jiang, deputy director of the pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said at a ecological forum in July 2013: "We cannot conclude that the water sources are of good quality only because these routine indicators meet the criteria," explaining that many harmful contaminants were not being tested for in China’s water sources.

Changes Are Promised

The new leadership of President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who took over in early 2013, often stresses that water pollution, along with other environmental issues, will be a key priority of their government.

On May 24, 2013, Xi stated that "Prevention should always come first... Pollution prevention and control of water, air and soil should be stressed. Pollution control in key river basins, and airborne pollution treatment in key areas and industries should be promoted."

In June 2012, then Vice-Premier Li Keqiang hosted the first conference of the China Biodiversity Conservation National Committee, which released a national action plan, including steps to protect water sources.

The 2012 Environmental Conditions Report, issued on June 5th 2013 by the Environmental Protection Ministry, stated that all levels of government spent a total of more than 43 billion RMB ($7.01 billion) in 2012 to build safe drinking-water facilities in rural China – 12 billion RMB more than in 2011 – helping more than 77 million people improve their water supply.

On July 28, 2013, at an environmental protection industry forum, Wang Tao, an official with the pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), said that an estimated 2 trillion RMB (US$ 326 billion) will be budgeted to enhance monitoring of drinking water sources, and to control poisonous contaminants as part of a water pollution prevention and control action plan being drafted.

Shanghai Water Quality

Shanghai Water Source

Although Shanghai water sources are of better quality than inland areas of China, it is acknowledged that nearly 14 percent of the city's sewage is discharged into rivers which serve as Shanghai's water sources without being treated.

Shanghai’s first water census carried out between 2010 and 2012 showed that only three percent of the water in the city's rivers and lakes was sufficient quality to be used as water resources for residents. The poor quality of the rest of Shanghai’s water resources is mainly due to discharges by local Shanghai factories. 

A report issued by the The Nature Conservancy in 2016 stated that 73 percent of the water catchment areas that supply surface water, which we depend on for daily consumption, to Shanghai and 29 other major Chinese cities were affected by medium to high pollution levels.

In an interview in mid-2016, Zhang Quan, director of Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, stated that 56 percent of the city’s waterways were rated in 2015 as lower than Grade V — the lowest acceptable water quality level based on the national standard. 

In 2016 the local government announced its plans to clean up all its Grade 6 severely contaminated rivers by the end of 2017, and all Grade 5 heavily polluted rivers by 2020.

shanghai tap water

The tap water system in Shanghai has seen some improvements in the last few years. Most of the tap water we now use in Shanghai comes from Qingcaosha, the country’s largest reservoir, located in the Yangtze River.

The new reservoir just started operations in 2010, replacing much of Shanghai tap water previously sourced from the Huangpu River. 

However, it was reported by the Shanghai Daily in June 2013 that there were already some problems appearing with this water supply, and they were working hard to rectify them. Experts noticed signs of excessive nutrients due to runoff of fertilizers and sewage from the land. As well, they were concerned about the possibility of intrusion of salt water from the nearby East China Sea.

It was also reported that the water quality in the Huangpu river, which still supplied about 30 percent of Shanghai tap water in 2015, was worsening.

The government is building a new emergency back-up reservoir on the Taipu River, which will be able to provide three days of water when the Huangpu water is too polluted.

Your Shanghai Home Tap Water Quality

Fortunately, Shanghai water is first sent to treatment plants, some managed by Veolia, a French water treatment company, before being piped to our homes. Expats, however, still need to be wary of Shanghai tap water.

Many of the pipes that bring the water to Shanghai homes are old, rusted and not up to the same standards used in developed countries, so leaching of metals and sediment into Shanghai water is possible during its travel.

The local government wants to invest to upgrade the system, but finances are limited, partly due to huge losses of water companies that currently sell water at below costs to Shanghai households.

Another issue affecting the quality of Shanghai tap water is its storage once it arrives at Shanghai's residential apartment buildings.

Water tanks on the top of the buildings are supposed to be disinfected by property management companies twice per year, and after cleaning to have water samples tested by the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Shanghai Daily reported in its April 13, 2013 edition, however, that due to a lack of manpower, the cleaning and taking of samples was not observed by staff from the Center, and it has been alleged that some management companies simply added mineral water to their samples in order to pass the quality tests.

Even if the water arrives at Shanghai households relatively clean, the danger of contamination does not end. Tests carried out by the Shanghai Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau showed that the faucets of several water tap manufacturers commonly used in Shanghai had excessive levels of lead. 21 of the 68 batches of faucets tested in 2013 failed quality tests.

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