Economic growth, rampant contamination, vast crops and a population explosion are sapping China's groundwater supply at an unprecedented pace. And with 20% of the world's population but only 7% of its water supply, the Chinese government is hard-pressed for solutions, the New York Times reports. "They will run out of water if the current rate continues," says one hydrologist.
One possibility is reviving Mao's $62 billion dream of a south-to-north water-transfer project, which proposes funneling 12 trillion gallons of water from the Yangtze River basin northward. But that river houses roughly 41% of China's wastewater, complicating the matter. The government has also promised greater penalties for illegal dumping, in order to stymie pollution, as aquifers steadily dry up.