By: Zhan Lisheng in Guangzhou and Xie Chuanjiao
BEIJING - More than 3,000 villagers in Guangdong province must travel 3 km to take a sip of potable water after the local drinking supply was found to be contaminated.
The people of Xingning's Yetang township have been drawing water from a nearby reservoir for years but will now have to wait up to six months before tap water is supplied to the village, according to local government officials. A township official said an illegal mine discovered near the reservoir in May is to blame.
Villagers on Tuesday bemoaned their predicament.
"It takes a lot of time to carry drinking water back home, not to mention the extra cost for my motorbike's gas consumption," said Yu Hongrong.
Yu said he was among the first to warn about the threat to the water quality after the illegal mine was discovered.
"The township of Yetang is rich in rare-earth minerals, the water there is particularly vulnerable to excessive content of heavy metals like iron and manganese," said Zhong Yuquan, director of the city's environmental protection monitoring station. "The illegal rare-earth mining in May, which was soon stopped, just worsened the situation.
"As a matter of fact, the city government had tendered a contractual bid for the drinking water project in Yetang township before the villagers began to worry about the water quality," he said. "It will take about half a year to complete the tap water supply project."
Yu said the reservoir was an essential water source.
"Some of our villagers set up pipes to induce the water from the reservoir a decade ago; and most of us had relied on the water for drinking before we found the water with excessive content of iron and manganese in May," Yu said. "We know from common sense that the rare-earth mining can pollute the water nearby."
Yu, who is not an expert in water quality, said that the reservoir's water was recently tested for iron and manganese. He said there was 0.64 mg of iron per liter (two times higher than the nation's standard for drinking water) and 0.51 mg per liter of manganese (six times higher than the standard).
Excessive content of iron and manganese in water is harmful to your health and is suspected to be carcinogenic but how harmful it is has yet to be determined by scientific research.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said official figures released two years ago said 320 million rural people cannot access safe drinking water, either because the local water is polluted or is in short supply.
"Every two or three days on average there is a toxic spill affecting drinking water quality around the county," Ma told China Daily.
Ma said that many township enterprises were to blame for the pollution of local water supplies.
"Some township enterprises, especially small paper plants and chemical factories, discharge a great deal of wastes year after year," Ma said.
The central government has set standards for discharge of chemicals, but law enforcement is weak in rural areas.
As a result, water in rural areas has been severely polluted, Ma added.
China has more 2.5 million villages, which are populated with nearly 800 million villagers. Only 25 percent of the villages receive tap water, Li Bingdi, an official with Ministry of Construction, told an international symposium in Beijing in April 2007.