China recently completed its first National Census of Water and found that 28,000 of the country’s estimated 50,000 rivers have completely disappeared. The loss is equivalent to losing the entire Mississippi River basin.
The Chinese government was quick to fault a disparity in previous census data. “Due to limited technology in the past, the previous figures were estimated using incomplete topographic maps dating back to the 1950s," said Huang He, China's Deputy Director of the Ministry of Water Resources. He also attributed some river loss to climate change.
However, water expert and president of the Pacific Institute Peter Gleick, believes that the disappearances have more to do with China’s own meddling. "As China's population and economy have rapidly grown, the country has experienced serious degradation of its water resources, including massive overuse and contamination," Gleick said. "The 'disappearance' of major rivers and streams is far more likely to be directly connected to uncontrolled and unsustainable extraction of water for industry and agriculture, though climate change may play a greater role in the future."
The census, which was conducted by roughly 800,000 surveyors, took two years to complete. The final estimates place the country’s remaining number of rivers with catchment areas of at least 100 square kilometers at 22,909.