Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Tyler Kuhn makes this connection in Beijing. This current event was reported in the South China Morning Post on July 15th, 2015, under the title “Beijing drinking water reservoir had lead levels ‘20 times WHO standard’ for at least three years,” by. Stephen Chen This is likely real news based on a study published in 2015 in the peer reviewed Journal of Environmental Informatics, available online.

This news about water quality relates to water resources engineering because the clean-up of the problem and future prevention will be engineered solutions. The article addresses how the WHO discovered lead levels in the Danjiangkou reservoir, Beijing’s main water supply, to be twenty times higher than their safety standards. The article also addresses the negative health effects that the lead might pose to the local population, along with stating other pollutants that have levels higher than standard safety levels. The article was missing information on whether or not the Beijing or Chinese government had plans to, or already had, reduce the level of pollutants in the reservoir.

Figure 1 Aerial view of Danjiangkou Dam and reservoir

Economic, environmental, and societal issues all contribute to what causes pollution and what drives the solutions to the problem of cleaning water supplies. Water quality relates to economic issues because problems caused by heavy metals in drinking water can cost people thousands of dollars when they need to see a doctor for water related sickness. The pollution of the water supply also causes the municipalities to have to spend money to clean up the drinking water supply and put in extra checks to make sure the levels stay below safety standards. Poor water quality also impacts the local environment. If water with lead, arsenic, or other pollutants seeps into the ground it can be absorbed by the local plants or even find its way to other bodies of water, carrying the pollutants with it. If wildlife drinks this water or eats the plants that a=have absorbed polluted water, the pollutants can build up in animals by way of biomagnification until the entire ecosystem is affected by the pollutants. If these pollutants are concentrated enough, they can cause the local ecosystem to suffer severely until something is done to reduce the level of pollution. On the social side of things, poor water quality can impact human health just as it impacts the environment. The high lead concentration in drinking water can cause developmental issues for young children such as deficits in attention span and decreasing their learning ability. For adults, increased lead can result in kidney problems along with higher blood pressure. If the levels of lead are high enough though, the lead poisoning could result in kidney failure or even death. Here the adverse health effects of lead are described by CDC scientists Mary Brown, and Stephen Margolis. The problem of lead pollution is usually caused by human activities such as increased driving and inappropriate dispensing of building materials which often causes the lead and other chemicals to make their way into water supplies that humans drink from. This causes the health problems and environmental issues that need to be solved.

Figure 2 Maximum safe levels of lead in drinking water supply defined by different organizations


Brown, M. J., & Margolis, S. (2012). Lead in Drinking Water and Human Blood Lead Levels in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6104a1.htm.

Chen, S. (2015, July 15). Beijing drinking water reservoir had lead levels ’20 times WHO standard’ for at least three years. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1839337/beijing-drinking-water-reservoir-found-contain-levels-lead-20-times-who

Subhuja. (2011, May 23). Danjiangkou reservoir travels Shiyan of China. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://news.everychina.com/wz41e656/danjiangkou_reservoir_travels_shiyan_of_china.html

Tan, X., Li, S., Xia, X., & Zhang, Q. (2015). Water Quality Characteristics and Integrated Assessment Based on Multistep Correlation Analysis in the Danjiangkou Reservoir, China. Journal of Environmental Informatics,25(1), 60-70. doi:10.3808/jei.201500296