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Water overuse threatens agriculture, industry in Hebei

2014-05-12

The north China plain has always faced a shortage of water. As a result, people have been using underground water for a long time.

But this continued use has severely depleted the water table, leading to a host of concerns.

It is the sowing season. Farmers in north China are irrigating the wheat field with underground water.

In Hengshui city of Hebei Province, half of the city’s water supply comes from the underground water table.

As a result, the water level has been dropping by two meters a year.

"An underground well is between three to four hundred meters deep. Water levels underground are dropping. Therefore, in order to get more water, the wells are getting deeper. The city now has 75,000 deep wells. Three to four percent of them are being discarded every year." Ma Yingpeng with Hengshui’s Water Affairs Bureau said.

For generations, farmers here in the North China Plain have used flooding methods for irrigation.

This method consumes the most water.

Despite the water shortage in the area, the use of this method hasn’t changed.

In Jing Xian county of Hengshui, we found a deep well that became disused last year.

Most deep wells use motors to pump out the water. The deeper the well goes, the more the cost.

"I have a quarter acre of land. Each time I have to water it, I have to spend four hundred Yuan. The pump often breaks when it gets deep. I may have to spend upto ten thousand Yuan to repair it." Villager Guo Huazhong from Hengshui’s Jingxian County said.

"We had a 260 meters deep well. But the water it pumps out is decreasing. People can’t afford the power bill, so we aren’t using it anymore."

The provincial water resource department says that 90% of deep wells using motors are in rural areas.

The depth of these wells ranges from 70 meters to 500 meters. In all, agricultural irrigation constitutes 70% of the total water consumption.

"The water reserve per capita in Hebei Province is only one seventh of the country’s average level. For years we have been over using underground water. The volume of pumped out water could reach over five billion cubic meters ever year." Zhang Baoquan with Water Resource Department in Hebei Province, said.

The north China plain is one of China’s major grain production and industrial bases.

The increasing depletion of the groundwater table is not only an ecological disaster waiting to happen, but could also become a threat to food security and economic development in the future.

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