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The rapid growth of China’s capital, Beijing is creating dire consequences. The home to 20 million people, Beijing uses 3.5 billion liters of water each year, 2/3 of which is pumped out of aquifers beneath the city. More groundwater is being used than replenished.

The study states,

With its rapid urban growth, there has been increasing water demand in Beijing.

Beijing groundwater study

Beijing groundwater study

According to a new study, parts of the city are sinking as rapidly as four inches every year. The Chaoyang financial district is the most affected. Skyscrapers and infrastructure like rail systems are jeopardizing the safety and welfare of the public.

The study states,

Land subsidence is a severe geohazard threatening the safety of the public and urban infrastructure. Hence, continuous monitoring of land subsidence is critical for detecting potential hazards and designing compensation strategies.

Researchers from China, Spain and Germany worked together with the National Natural Science Foundation of China to study this problem. They analyzed data from thousands of satellite images (satellite radar Interferometry) and GPS sensors to track changes in the groundwater level from 2003 to 2011. Monitoring of groundwater showed how subsidence, a drop in elevation caused by sinking earth in response to geological or manmade causes, was causing parts of the city to sink.

Beijing groundwater study

Beijing groundwater study

Actually, the city has shown signs of sinking since 1935 because groundwater has been the main source of water for industrial, agricultural and household use. Though the main cause of the sinking is depletion of groundwater, other causes like the type of aquifer, the location of water pumps and the thickness of the soft soil contribute to the problem. There are over 10,000 water wells in the area.

The study states that the subsidence could be halted and the sunken land recovered if the city ends the pumping of groundwater, allowing the aquifers to be restored.

China has been addressing this issue. In 2012, China’s State Council approved a plan to prevent land subsidence by limiting the use of groundwater and monitoring the affected areas.

In 2015, China completed the South-North Water Diversion Project. The goal was to channel 44.8 billion cubic meters of fresh water annually from the Yangtze River in the south to the north. Using three channel systems, a 1,500-mile network of canals and tunnels, water would be routed to Beijing.

The Chaoyang district recently announced plans to retire 367 water wells to reduce the reliance on groundwater.

The study states,

China has 45 cities and municipalities where disastrous land subsidence have occurred or is occurring.

The problem of subsidence is not limited to China. China is actually the 5th most water-stressed city in the world. Jakarta is sinking 11-inches per year. The cities of Bangkok, Mexico City and the San Joaquin Valley are also endangered.