Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Connor Terry makes this connection in Shantou China. This current event was reported in “MyShantou”, on April 21, 2009, under the title, “Clean Water Shortage in Shantou”, by Ye Xiao. This is likely real news, based on an independent study provided by Qiao et. al in 2013, at here.

This ongoing problem relates to water resources engineering, in the specific areas of wastewater treatment, water pollution abatement, and sediment transport, among other issues. The key message in this article is the development of new wastewater treatment plants to combat nutrient and heavy metal loading in Shantou’s waterways. The citizens of Shantou have been dealing with a shortage of water, not based on a lack of quantity, but on a lack of clean water. Pollution, mainly electronic waste pollution, is a big issue for this city. Garbage, invasive species, and dangerous chemicals fill the rivers, marshes, and bays of Shantou, making it too dangerous for human consumption. There was only one wastewater treatment plant in a city of 5 million people until 2007. As a result, the city had to build eight more wastewater treatment plants to better clean the noxious water. In my critique of this story, I think the article has missed important information on electronic waste. Based on the independent study by Qiao et. al, it is clear that one of Shantou’s greatest problems is electronic waste leaching heavy metals into the water. Industry makes up 47% of Shantou’s GDP as of 2015 and these industries, along with residents, have been producing a lot of electronic waste that has been carelessly littered in the city’s waterways.

Figure 1: Electronic waste, among other solid waste, is dumped right into Shantou’s rivers (elizabethdalziel.photoshelter.com)

Figure 2: New wastewater treament plants were implemented to better filter wastewater (aqau-eng.com)

Economic, environmental, and societal issues are the three key factors that are used by the Shantou, China Water Pollution Control Act created in 2007. Water pollution relates to economic issues because polluted water costs more to clean. The city may also lose economic activity from residents or businesses that leave due to water shortages. Water pollution relates to environmental issues directly because heavy metal loading is toxic to wildlife. The solid waste also reroutes rivers and harms sensitive plant life. This issue also takes a toll on society because water scarcity is dangerous to humans. With a city of 5.5 million people as of 2015, there are a lot of people who are relying on receiving clean water daily. Even without water scarcity, the polluted water is toxic to humans (Figure 1). Lead, copper, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Cadmium (as reported by Qiao et. al, 2013) are all found in local rivers and can bioaccumulate in the citizens’ bodies as well as the food they eat. The effect of implementing water resources engineering solutions to this issue is that new wastewater treatment plants remove more nutrients and heavy metals from water and wastewater, which gives more clean water to the citizens of Shantou. Water resources engineering cannot address the source of solid waste pollution, but it can address liquid pollution such as nutrient loading from ill-equipped treatment plants.


Qiao, Y. Yang, Y. Zhao, J., Tao, R., & Xu, R. (2013). “Influence of Urbanization and Industrialization on Metal Enrichment of Sediment Cores from Shantou Bay, South China”. ScienceDirect. Retrieved  24 Apr, 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749113003680

Xiao, Y. (2009). “Clean Water Shortage in Shantou”. MyShantou. Retrieved 24 Apr, 2018 from  http://archive.myshantou.org/clean-water-shortage-in-shantou/