Providing Clean, Clear Water

Feature | 31 January 2009

ADB's water supply and sanitation project in Jilin is benefiting urban households and helping control pollution in rivers

Seventeen years is not a short period. Citizens in Meihekou City in northeastern People's Republic of China's (PRC) Jilin Province - one of the PRC's poorer provinces, lagging behind in the provision of basic social services - must have never imagined they would have to wait so long to satisfy their thirst for clean drinking water.

As early as 1991, the city's government identified improved water supply and quality in Meihekou as a top priority. The citizens were faced with tap water that was smelly and foul tasting, especially in springtime.

Frequent Water Shortages

"We used to buy barreled water to wash fruits and vegetables, brew tea, and cook meals because the tap water's quality couldn't be safely relied on," says Wang Sulan, a 63-year-old retiree who heads a family of six. "Besides, the tap water was not supplied 24 hours a day, and we often sat up until midnight to collect a tank of water for washing clothes and taking baths."

But lack of funds impeded the government's efforts to construct the needed water plant and pipeline. "Frequent water shortages and poor water quality scared away potential investors and hampered the smooth development of the city," notes Vice Mayor Bai Tiejun.

The situation remained unchanged until 2003, when a leadership group was set up by the city's government to collect funds for the project.

On 19 July 2005, ADB approved a $100 million loan package for the province to increase wastewater coverage, boost the supply of potable water, and improve management and use of water resources in the upper Songhua River Basin.

For Meihekou, ADB funded $14.62 million of the total CNY297 million ($43.4 million) needed to improve water supply and treatment. The Meihekou project includes a 40-kilometer water transmission pipeline from the Hailong Reservoir to downtown - running through seven townships and districts, as well as the construction of a water treatment plant.

While constructing the pipelines, constructors had to overcome difficulties caused by bad weather and price fluctuations on building materials. A Meihekou Water Treatment Plant was built to meet local residents' demand of 100,000 tons of tap water per day and fuel the requirement in the city's future development.

Higher Quality Tap Water

"All 34 indexes of the tap water process have reached national standards, and citizens in Meihekou are assured of enjoying safe, clean, and quality tap water 24 hours a day from now on," says Li Xiumin, an engineer of the water plant.

The quality of the tap water is much better than that of the groundwater, which contains levels of iron and manganese dozens of times higher than the national standards, she explains. Li's labs analyze the water and record water samples collected from the water resources, water plant, and residents' homes.

Meihekou's situation is better compared with the overall water situation in the PRC, where more and more cities are beset by environmental problems and water shortage and deterioration.

According to estimates, the PRC suffers from an annual water shortage of about 60 billion cubic meters, with water supply not meeting the increasing demand in more than 400 of its 655 cities. At the same time, wasted water and untreated wastewater are ruining the PRC's water resources in many cities.

As a countermeasure, ADB's Jilin Urban Environmental Improvement Project is also expanding the inadequate wastewater treatment and sewerage system to its capital city of Changchun. The project will significantly reduce pollution in the Yitong and Yongchun rivers that flow into the Songhua River, while helping control floods from the Yongchun River.

Funded by ADB's loan, a wastewater treatment plant has been established and expanded in Changchun to handle 390,000 tons of urban wastewater each day.

"After establishing and expanding the No.1 Wastewater Treatment Plant in a northern suburb of Changchun, we can treat more than 80% of the wastewater produced by the city before discharge," says Duan Guoguang, deputy manager of the Drainage Company under the Changchun Water Affairs Group.

Of the 390,000 tons of treated wastewater each day, 290,000 tons is drained into Yitong River, which is one tributary to the Songhua River, that runs into Russia. The rest of the 100,000 tons will be further treated as intermediate water for a thermal power plant as cooling water.

"The water in Yitong River was so dark and foul that no fish could live in it in recent years due to wastewater pollution," says Qiao Hui, a farmer-turned-worker, who was busy installing equipment at the wastewater treatment plant.

Drastic Improvement

Water quality in the Yitong River has improved drastically after the wastewater treatment plant was put into operation more than 1 year ago.

"In the past, the paddy field was changed into a corn field due to the water deterioration caused by the drainage of wastewater from the urban area," says Sun Youcheng, another farmer-turnedworker, who lives in a small village along the Yitong River.

He says he had made a living on a 7-mu (0.5 hectare) rice field, irrigated by the nearby river water. "We also raised fish, but they were sparse, and we dared not sell the fish in the market because of the polluted water," Sun says.

"The wastewater treatment project is helping to restore the paddy fields and fish again," Sun says. He adds that the improved water quality enables his wife to raise more than 200 geese, chickens, and ducks at home.