Open Journal of Geology, 2011, 1, 45-50 Published Online October 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. OJG
Karst Groundwater Management through
Science and Education
Fang Guo1, Guanghui Jiang2
1Key Laboratory of Karst Dynamics, Institute of Karst Geology, MLR, Guilin, China
2The International Res earch Center on Karst under the Auspices of UNESCO, Guilin, China
Received April 17, 2011; revised July 2, 2011; accepted August 9, 2011
In Southwestern China, karst covers an area of 540,000 km2, and supports a population of approximately 100
million people. This groundwater can easily become highly polluted without effective management. Sound
management of karst areas requires the conscientious participation of citizens including homeowners, plan-
ners, government officials, farmers and other land-use decision makers. Lingshui Spring was a good example.
A series of educational materials were developed and delivered to the local government, residents, and stu-
dents. A groundwater polluted accident was tracked as a natural tracer test in a spring to increase under-
standing of the vulnerability of the area’s karst aquifer. More than 200 people attended the communication
and training course on groundwater protection and environmental justice law. Several efforts have appeared
as a result, such as a proposal for Lingshui water resources protection that was put forward for the first time
by Wuming county political consultative conference.
Keywords: Karst Groundwater, Management, Education, Lingshui Spring
1. Introduction
China is currently undergoing rapid growth with eco-
nomic development, especially in the west of China,
which has changed greatly since the policy of Western
Development in 1999. The scope of Western Develop-
ment includes 12 provinces and autonomous regions,
some of which contain large areas of karst terrain:
Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Guangxi.
Rapid economic growth in southwestern China is also
bringing fundamental changes to traditional land use and
human activities. Some of the activities that have the
greatest impact on the environment include intensified
agriculture, mining, and infrastructure development. Cou-
pled with a growing industrial base and urban expansion,
these activities have caused varying degrees of contami-
nation to the karst aquifers throughout the region [1].
Since 2000, the Chinese government has shown in-
creased concern for problems associated with sensitive
karst resources and landscapes. Multiple associated pro-
jects have been launched by varying ministries through-
out the country. These projects continue to be imple-
mented as evaluation of groundwater resources show
water pollution, drought, and flooding in karst areas have
a great impact on resource and environment exploitation.
Typical tools for managing groundwater in karst are
[2,3]: land use zonation; pollution risk assessment and
management; groundwater monitoring; increased public
awareness of the value and vulnerability of the aquifer.
Due to the wide distribution of karst areas in Southwest-
ern China and the limit of scientific and technologically-
trained professionals, managing the area’s resources
without the support of local people is difficult. For ex-
ample, karst groundwater pollution readily occurs be-
cause of a lack of implemented and enforced karst regu-
lations and a lack of knowledge regarding the unique
character of karst areas. Education is an important part of
any natural resource protection plan because it can often
be difficult for people to protect something they do not
understand [4]. This is especially true for karst protection
because karsts are an unfamiliar topic to most people.
Students, citizens, farmers and agency personnel in karst
areas need education to gain the necessary knowledge to
help protect this valuable and unique resource. The first
author was fortunate to receive some of this knowledge
after being selected as a fellow of the Vermont Law
School Environmental Justice Young Fellows Exchange
Program in 2010.
This paper reviews actual and potential measures of
karst groundwater management in selected karst springs
or underground rivers in Southwestern China. The paper
does not present a comprehensive study of science in
karst areas, but more a pilot study of how to manage
karst groundwater resources in potential contamination.
The purpose of this paper is to explain how important of
public education on karst and how to apply the scientific
study results to protect groundwater resources. More
karst springs or underground rivers should be tried to
protect water resources through science and education in
order to provide basic measures for future groundwater
2. Distribution of Karst in Southwestern
Karst areas in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
occupy 3.44 million km2 and account for one-third of
China’s territory. In southwestern China karsts occupy
about 540,000 km2, mainly in Guizhou province, but also in
western Guangxi, eastern Yunnan, southeastern Chongqing,
southern Sichuan, and western Hunan and Hubei prov-
inces (Figure 1, Table 1). In these areas, the popula- tion
is approximately 100 million people. Cultivated land
occupies 19.27 × 104 km2 and accounts for 18.3% of the
total area. The climate is warm and humid, with annual
precipitation ranging between 1,000 and 2,000 mm per
year and the average temperature ranging from 15˚C and
20˚C. Despite the high annual precipitation, the presence
of highly drained karst terrains and low surface water
runoff results in the prevalence of unavailable water re-
sources that restrict economic and social development.
As a result, 8 million people are without reliable drink-
ing-water sources in the karst areas of southwestern
China [5], while gradually increasing pollution aggra-
vates the drinkable water supplied from these areas.
3. Status of Economic and Education in
Southwestern China
Eight provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities
Provincial capital
Provincial name
Water body
State border non-karst
bare karstburied karst
covered karst
Figure 1. Distribution of karst areas in southern China.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. OJG
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. OJG
in Southwestern China are still relatively un-develop-
ment compared to other regions in China or the world.
One reason for the lack of development is the mountain-
ous natural landscape, which poses challenges for trans-
portation development. Furthermore, this area lacks
communication capabilities with other regions. With the
exception of Guangdong province, a high percentage of
the population in this region is rural and those with
higher education is low (Table 2), suggesting that most
people lack any special knowledge about environmental
management and protection.
4. Scientific Research on Karst
Complicated geologic processes increase the problems of
living in karst regions. As our understanding of karst
systems has improved, so has our ability to prevent many
land-use problems and to remediate those that do occur.
Science and technology are essential to promoting the
sustainability and protection of karst environments for a
variety of reasons including [7]: 1) providing information
about karst aquifer systems so residents can better pro-
tect groundwater supplies from pollution; 2) supplying
information on geological hazards such as the potential
for surface collapse due to shallow cave systems; 3) pro-
viding the means to map the subsurface hydrology and
geology to identify areas where productive water wells
may be located as well as potential karst problems; 4)
offering information for planners, developers, land man-
agement officials, and the general public about the spe-
cial problems of living in karst environments; and 5)
supplying solutions for environmental problems.
Springs and underground rivers are the two main
sources of drinking water in Southwestern China. In the
region there are 2,836 listed subterranean rivers with a
total length of 13,919 km and a total discharge of 1,482
m3/s. In Guizhou province alone there are 3,152 peren-
nial karst springs with a minimum discharge greater than
10l/s during the dry season, for a total of 257.82 m3/s. Of
the known subterranean rivers 1,130 are more than 2 km
long and result in a total discharge of 212.78 m3/s during
the dry season. Many of these springs or underground
rivers are still uninvestigated and/or are not monitored,
so remain unprotected and vulnerable to pollution. In the
Table 1. Karst water resources in main regions of South China [6].
Regions Ground water resources (A) 108m3/a Karst water resources (B) 108m3/a (B)/(A)%
Yunnan 742 345 46
Guizhou 479 386 80
Sichuan 551 135 24
Chongqing 160 118 73
Guangxi 699 374 53
Hunan 456 263 57
Hubei 416 185 44
Total 3503 1806 51
Table 2. Status of economy and education in Southwestern China.
Region Urban population (%) Rural population (%) GDP/P (USD)Collage accounting for
total people (%)
High school accounting for
total people (%)
Guizhou 26.29 73.71 1012 3.0 9.05
Yunnan 28.08 71.92 1420 2.67 10.52
Guangxi 31.70 68.30 1714 3.63 12.67
Chongqing 38.35 61.65 2103 4.30 13.90
Sichuan 31.10 68.90 1757 3.40 12.74
Hubei 43.60 56.40 2211 4.78 17.52
Hunan 35.50 64.50 1970 3.17 16.69
Guangdong 63.00 37.00 4825 5.42 19.88
*Date collected from Chinese Statistics Yearbook 2005.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. OJG
1970s and 1980s, China deployed a 1:20 million cen-
sus-based regional hydrology study to identify the status
of groundwater in the country. Since 1999, a new round
of land and resources surveys at a 1:5 millionscale was
launched in the southwest and other areas, but to date
only 20 million square kilometers have been completed.
In China, there are only a limited number of institutes
involved in karst research and exploration. These include:
the Institute of Guangxi Geology Prospecting and Ex-
ploitation, Guangxi Hydrogeological Team, Yunnan Bu-
reau of Geology and Mineral Prospecting and Exploita-
tion, Geological Survey of Yunnan Province, Bureau of
Geology and Mineral Exploration and Development of
Guizhou Province, and the Geological Survey of Hunan
Province. Some universities, such as the China Univer-
sity of Geosciences (Wuhan) and Southwest University,
also engage in karst research. The Institute of Karst Ge-
ology is the only institute specifically focused on karst
studies in China. The total number of karst professionals
in the region is only about 10,000 employees. Compared
to the widespread distribution of karst and the large
population size (approximately 10 million people), sci-
entists and technologists are limited, making the man-
agement of karst resources difficult.
5. Liushui SpringA Case Study
Lingshui Spring in Wuming County, Nanning City,
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was selected as
the case study. Lingshui Spring, the former training base
for the Chinese National Swimming Team, is a highly
scenic spot that produces excellent drinking water for
more than 100,000 people. With the establishment of the
Nanning Association of Southeast Asian Nations eco-
nomical garden, more than 200,000 consumers will rely
on the spring by 2025. However, until recently there was
no protection area designated for the spring, so water
quality was likely to continually deteriorate and decline
as agricultural and industrial activities in the spring
catchment increase. For example, NO3
which is related
to agriculture activities has increased over the past 30
years, while water consumption has also gradually in-
creased, resulting in discharge that has decreased by
nearly 50% compared to that in the dry seasons of 1977
and 1978. The local government and residents are ap-
propriately worried about these problems.
5.1. Public Education
In order to deliver information about the importance of
karst groundwater, how groundwater flows, and how to
protect karst groundwater supplies through regulations,
brochures that serve as calendars were developed and
distributed to Wuming government officials, members of
Wuming county political consultative conference, local
citizens, students, and others. A training and communi-
cation course was held in Wuming County from August
14 to August 16, 2010. The title of this course was:
Training and Communication on Understanding Ground-
water, Protecting Groundwater in Wuming County. In
order to learn about U.S. experiences, two American
scientists with research interests focusing on national and
international informal environmental education efforts
related to karst landscapes, anthropogenic karst distur-
bance, cave environmental education, karst climate change,
and water resources were invited to attend and present.
Two presentations were given during the workshop:
Protecting Karst Systems and Groundwater through Sci-
ence and Education (presented by the visiting U.S. scien-
tists), and Karst Groundwater Protection and Relative
Laws (shown by a Chinese scientist). More than 200
people attended this training and communication work-
shop, including the vice head of county, director from
Wuming county government, all members from the
Wuming county political consultative conference, the
Bureau of Water Resource, the Bureau of Environmental
Protection, the Bureau of Forestry, the Bureau of Land
and Resources, Bureau of Housing and Urban-Rural De-
velopment, Bureau of Tourism, Wuming Water Com-
pany, representatives from local citizens, and graduate
students from Southwest University, China University of
Geosciences, Guilin University of Technology, and
Guangxi Normal University.
5.2. Natural Tracer Test
Groundwater tracers include any substance that can be-
come dissolved or suspended in water, or attached to the
water molecule, and recovered or measured from a water
sample that can be used to trace the source of groundwa-
ter in terms of its specific or relative location and time of
recharge. Groundwater tracers can include both artifi-
cially introduced and naturally occurring substances [8].
Groundwater tracing with artificial tracers involves add-
ing a label to the groundwater that can be identified if
that same water is sampled at a different location. Natu-
ral tracing involves the use of naturally occurring com-
ponents of a water sample to determine information
about the source and age of the sample. The most com-
monly used natural tracers are isotopes and chemical
compounds that originate in the atmosphere and become
incorporated in the rainfall the recharges an aquifer
[9-11]. Groundwater tracing as a science has been in
practice for more than a century but has been slow to
become accepted in karst areas in China largely because
complexity of karst water system. A fieldtrip was lead to
a spring in Tang village to illustrate the vulnerability of
the local karst aquifer (Figure 2), how the pollutants are
transported in the extremely vulnerable karst areas, and
the serious consequences of pollution. On February 24,
2010, villagers suddenly discovered that their household
tap water was covered by a strong smelling layer of
black oily substance. On February 25, the Tang village
water plant stopped water supply, leaving more than
4,000 people without drinking water for over a month.
Water was supplied by truck by the Wuming County fire
squad. After the accident, the county government set up a
working group to identify causes for deteriorating water
quality. The group found the pollution source was sew-
age effluxent from a starch factory, which is about 2 km
far away from the sinkhole (Figure 3). A sewage ditch of
treatment plant from the factory was under construction.
And when it came to the sinkhole which is about 800 m
far away from the spring, some sewage effluent leaking
into the aquifer, resulting in water polluted. This con-
tamination accident indicated pollution can be easily
happen when improper disposal pollutant at upstream,
even people can not find connection directly between
water points by naked eyes. And it also showed solute
transports quickly when concentrated flow exits. Water,
and any associated pollutions, may travel far in a short
timee.g. 6.5 km/day, possibly even tens of kilometers
per day [12].
The effects of the aforementioned activities were
abundant. For instance, more attention is being paid to
karst groundwater since the training and communication
workshop. In addition, this was the first time such a wide
variety of political leaders and scientists from different
departments were called together to discuss karst ground-
water protection. Surprisingly, representatives from gov-
ernment, scientists, local citizens, students, and NGOs
united in Wuming County, Nanning City, Guangxi Zhuang
Figure 2. The water supply source of Tang village in Wum-
ing county.
Figure 3. Sinkhole where sewage infiltrated into the water
supply source.
Autonomous Region over karst. Due to the increased
consciousness about sustainable use of water resources in
Wuming County, the Institute of Karst Geology and the
International Research Center on Karst plan to use Ling-
shui Spring, Wuming County as a research and education
base in the twelve Five-Year Plan under the project title
“City Development and Karst Groundwater”. A proposal
on Lingshui water resources protection was put forward
by Wuming county political consultative conference.
Lastly, for the first time, the county political consultative
conference has put forward a proposal on how to use and
manage karst groundwater. The proposal includes setting
up water resources protection areas, strict control of un-
derground water usage, attracting domestic and foreign
experts to do research in Wuming County, and pursuit of
educational endeavors aimed at local residents, amongst
6. Conclusions
Karst aquifers where fractures or cavities permit rapid
flow tend to be more vulnerable than those where water
flows slowly through porous. Karst aquifers usually have
complexity system. Once polluted, they generally make
cleanup difficult, expensive, and in some cases impossi-
ble. Groundwater movement and risk of pollution have
known exactly based on detailed surveys and monitoring
in some important springs or underground rivers in South
of China. But sometimes they still can not escape from
pollution when only depend on the scientists. An impor-
tant spring in South of China was selected for pilot study
on how to manage karst groundwater. Public education
through training course and related material deliver for
local government, residents, and students have been suc-
cessfully conducted. According to this way local people
know about knowledge of karst water, and now they are
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. OJG
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. OJG
more caution before undertake activities which may
threat water quality. A groundwater pollution accident
was exhibited by scientists as a natural tracer test in or-
der to show how vulnerability of karst aquifers. Swage
piper leaking into nearby sinkhole, polluted a spring
which is about 800 m away in 2 days, which means the
spring connected to the sinkhole and also aquifers. Solute
transport velocity was rapid by concentrated flow re-
charge. These can by new methods for karst groundwater
management and should be spread. More measures
should be tried to convey to local people after science
study in order to protect karst groundwater self-con-
7. Acknowledgements
Financial support was provided by Ministry of Land and
Resources (200911004-1), Guangxi Natural Science
Foundation (0991096), and Institute of Karst Geology
(200801, 2009001), China. We would like to thank the
reviewers who read the first draft of this paper for their
constructive comments. Special thanks to Mrs. Leslie A.
North from Western Kentucky University and Miss
Noreen Zaman from University of Oxford for their great
efforts in improving the language of the paper.
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