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Half Empty ep.8: Ensuring urban tap water quality is a huge challenge


05-22-2015 22:03 BJT

Full coverage: Special Series: Half Empty

In 2001, the Chinese government set ambitious goals to improve drinking water quality and access to public water. It committed all cities to meeting national drinking water standards by end of this year. More than 100 billion US dollars has been spent on upgrading treatment and pipeline systems. How far is government from realizing its water safety goal? And how safe is China’s drinking water?

in our special series, “Half Empty”, CCTV reporter Han Bin talks with a senior water expert, who has been closely monitoring what goes into the tap--and what comes out.

Tuancheng Lake provides Beijing’s drinking water. It's regarded as the best quality the city has. But it’s been diverted from 14 hundred kilometers south of the capital.

Zhao Feihong

Zhao Feihong

Zhao Feihong is to test how safe the water is. And no one knows better. The city’s foremost expert has been searching for China’s best water for some 20 years. It's a professional and personal mission.

The water at Tuancheng tests high above national top standards for surface water.

“The higher quality of water you drink, the greater help it can bring to your health. People need about two liters of water a day. If the water is polluted, people’s health will be endangered," Zhao said.

Checking what's in the water is part of the routine. There are countless brands of bottled water on the market. The government is trying to standardize the products. But implementation takes time.

And Zhao Feihong says even when the water at the source is safe; it's not necessarily true when it comes out of the tap.

Secondary pollution could happen through water treatment, when it's combined with other sources, and flows through aging pipes.

“Over the past twenty years, China ’s water pollution has shifted from point source pollution, to large-scale non-point source pollution. Pollution is an enemy, which contaminates clean water. Most of the best waters are found in underdeveloped areas, with little population," Zhao said.

Water is becoming increasingly precious. It's big business in China. High-end products are more expensive than oil. With growing concerns about safety, more people are turning to bottled water.

China’s development has raised public awareness, which has become a force for higher national standards.

“When choosing water, I would first find out where it comes from. Water is much safer if the source is far away from pollution. And even though it all reaches national standards, there’s still some difference in quality," Zhao said.

Drinking water is at the end of the supply chain. Zhao Feihong says ensuring quality requires comprehensive standards, policies and regulations to be in place. And even when they are, the work of Zhao and her colleagues will be far from over.

It’s clear that most people across China are enjoying access to a public water supply. What’s not clear is the quality of that water. The government has made it a top priority, issues standards from sources to the tap. Yet to achieving high drinking water quality for all people, there’s still a long way to go.

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