The mainland is considering revising its 20-year-old standards for groundwater and will launch a new network to monitor quality in three years, according to an official with the Ministry of Land and Resources.
Zhang Zuochen, a deputy head of the ministry-affiliated China Institute of Geo-Environment Monitoring, said a revision to the existing standards for groundwater quality had been drafted. Internal consultation among ministries would start soon, Zhang was quoted by the the 21st Century Business Herald as saying yesterday.
The nation is facing a worsening crisis over its groundwater as cities and farms in the arid north are forced to rely heavily on drawing water from underground.
Industrial and agricultural pollution is also putting pressure on the system, with latest official data showing nearly 60 per cent of groundwater is either polluted or heavily polluted.
But the full scale of the problem is difficult to discern because quality standards are outdated and monitoring remains insufficient.
By the end of last year, only 1.1 million square kilometers, or about 11 per cent of the national territory, was being monitored for groundwater quality, according to Zhang.
Experts also said standards failed to cover some key pollutants that were becoming more common, such as organic chemicals from petrochemical industries.
"When the standards were drafted some 20 years ago, petrochemical pollutants were not a major concern, so they were excluded," said Song Xianfang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Song said the standards should have been revised every five years to keep pace with economic growth and shifting environmental problems.
In 2011, nearly 55 per cent of groundwater was either polluted or extremely polluted, meaning the water required intensive processing before it could be used. The figure rose to 59.6 per cent last year.
A nationwide survey conducted in 1999 by the China Geological Survey, also affiliated with the land and resource ministry, found about 10 per cent of groundwater was rated as polluted or extremely polluted, while nearly 80 per cent of groundwater was clean enough for direct drinking.
In 2011, China published a 10-year plan to tackle groundwater pollution, and called for an effective monitoring system to be in place by next year.
But the target has now been extended to three years. Some experts have said the delay was due to a dispute over regulatory responsibility among the three relevant ministries - land and resources, environmental protection and water conservation.