Shanghai Water Supply and Wastewater Disposal

Article excerpt

Providing an adequate amount of safe drinking water is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a government, yet it cannot be assumed that all countries or local administrations have achieved this goal. The task is influenced by the quantity and quality of water at its source and by the technology available to process it. In communities relying on surface-water intake, the goal is closely related to the condition of discharged wastewater that becomes part of the freshwater resource base. This water quality frequently depends on the amount of available public finance and on the desire of government to install or purchase water-treatment facilities that will upgrade the water to the desired standard. In a broad sense, the situation may be viewed as a policy decision in which there is a trade-off among economic development, environmental concerns, and budgetary decisions.

The People's Republic of China must contend with water shortages as it tries to attain an adequate supply of safe drinking water for its burgeoning populace (Hou 1991). As a result of the eighth five-year plan (1991-1995), it is expected that good water quality will become a national goal in the near future; yet there is little indication that the central government will make environmental spending a priority. The challenge to achieve good water has been met with limited success. Urban areas have become focal points of great concern because of their large, rapidly growing populations and because of the interest of the government in attracting foreign investment. Shanghai, the largest city in China, is the case study for examining a municipal effort to provide safe drinking water; the problems are associated with wastewater discharge, water intake, and treatment facilities, as well as governmental efforts to improve the overall quality of water available to the residents of Shanghai. The extent of the concern is exemplified by parents who teach their children from infancy not to drink water directly from faucets. All water for human consumption is boiled. The perception of dangerous water is well founded, because many illnesses and diseases can be linked directly to poor water quality.

Shanghai is a global-scale metropolis with a population of 12.5 million people and a position of prominence in commercial activity and industrial output in China. The old city forms the core of an area known administratively as Shanghai Proper, which is situated primarily on the western bank of the Huangpu River [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The Huangpu drains an area of approximately 24,000 square kilometers and has a volume that exceeds 10 billion cubic meters annually (Duan ca. 1989, 1-7). This channeled tributary discharges into the Yangtze River near its mouth as it flows into the East China Sea. Shanghai Proper is a densely constructed area of residential and other urban uses that must utilize an aging infrastructure; yet it is considered the most attractive part of the city. Surrounding the inner city are ten counties that provide high-value agricultural commodities. Portions of these counties are rapidly developing urban concentrations that will place increasing demands on water resources.


Shanghai has always relied for its water supply on the Huangpu and its main tributary, Suzhou Creek, as well as on some canals. Although the Huangpu River will continue to provide virtually all of the water used in Shanghai, the quality of water from this source is usually below desired standards. Some water used to be pumped from wells as a supplement to the river water, but the practice was discontinued in the mid-1960s because it contributed directly to subsidence of land and related landuse problems (Shanghai Hydrogeologic Team 1976; Smil 1993). The annual natural recharge of groundwater was inadequate to maintain the historical hydrologic balance. Hydrologists measured the extent of this sinking land to be as much as 2. …