Due to 11 consecutive years of drought, Beijing has become a city of severe water shortage. Apart from less rainfall, a fast increasing population is also a cause.
The government has taken many measures to ensure regular water supply in Beijing. However, water from the Yangtze River which will be diverted to Beijing in 2010 will not reach Beijing before 2014, which will be a huge challenge for Beijing’s water supply for the following four years.
Beijing troubled by severe water shortage
Many families from the Beijing's communities have realized the importance of saving water and adopted water-saving facilities, some of which are even promoted in their communities.
Beijing is planning to legislate awarding people who save water, and one method is to reward with money.
11 consecutive years of drought
Turning on the tap, only to find there is no a single drop of water; the water will return in three days.
Villagers from Longwang Village of Qingshui Town in Mentougou District only have water supply for six hours once every three days.
Since June 2009, the villagers have to rent water wagons every day to transport water from Liangjiapu Village, 7 kilometers away from their village, and then to pour the water into their village well, in which the water level is declining.
Yu Guanghai, a 65 year-old villager can only wash his face once a day before going to bed. After finishing his work, he will fill a basin of water to wash his face first, and then to clean his body and wash his feet. Afterwards, he pours the rest away into the pigsty.
All of his four children have moved away. Only he, his wife and his father-in-law stayed in the village. "Young people certainly cannot stand not being able to bathe in over 10 days," he said.
"I cannot bear without showering," said Yan, who lives nearby Yonghegong Lama Temple and will bathe every day for about one hour every time. She casually waves away her parents' words of "you are wasting water."
Her parents put a basin underneath the sink to collect used water to flush the toilet. "I never use the used water, but flush the toilet directly with the water in the tank." Yan is a little confused of her parents' water-saving.
Yan said that she never encounters the problem of water deficiency during her daily life and she thinks that saving so little water cannot solve the problem.
"It really can save much water," said Li Ligong who is a retired engineer living in Donghuashi Community. What he refers to is his invention, a "household automatic water-saving device."
Actually the device is to put a container below the sink, linking it with the toilet tank with a pipe.
He calculated that the amount of monthly water consumption in his family has dropped to about 3 tons from the original 10 tons after using the water-saving device.
Although Yu Guanghai, Yan and Li Ligong live in the same city and have different water situations but they all have to face the same fact—Beijing has a water shortage.
Beijing has suffered from drought for 11 years since 1999.
Statistics provided by Dai Yuhua, director of the water resources management division of the Beijing Water Authority, show that so far, Beijing's average rainfall this year only reached 448mm, 23 percent less than the average rainfall of 585mm in previous years.
There are also some other depressing statistics in Beijing, a city suffering from lingering drought.
The water area in the Miyun Reservoir, which provides 90 percent of the surface water supply to Beijing, reduced by nearly five square kilometers year-on-year.
3,991 residents from 21 villages in Mentougou, Yanqing and other districts and counties find difficulty in their drinking water supply to varying extents, including those in Longwang Village of Qingshui Town in Mentougou District.
The governments of Yanqing, Huairou, Fangshan and Changping revealed that about 300,000 mu of crops have been affected by drought.
Excessive population growth leads to water shortage.
In the first half of November, the snow which fell three times and earlier than in previous years made Beijing "very wet." No rain appeared for more than a month following making the first three snowfalls seem like a beautiful "mistake."
"It is not merely this year that there is less rain." Dai said that Beijing's water resources are mainly from its own natural rainfall and rainfall from places upstream from Beijing. Since 1999, except for 2008 when Beijing's rainfall reached over 600mm, Beijing's annual rainfall reduced by 130mm compared to the average level in the past. He added, "this means that Beijing received over 20 billion cubic meters less of water over the past decade," which is equivalent to the capacity of 20 Miyun Reservoirs.
Dai said that Beijing had the most rainfall in the 1950s. Over the past years, Beijing's average rainfall stood at 585mm and the total annual precipitation stood at nearly 10 billion cubic meters.
He added that after the 10 billion cubic meters of water fell to the ground, only about 3.7 billion cubic meters can be used as a result of evaporation. Currently, there are over 17 million permanent residents in Beijing and the average per capita water capacity stands at only over 200 cubic meters, only one-tenth of the national average.
According to the UN standards, a region is believed to have serious water shortage if the average per capita water capacity is less than 500 cubic meters.
Dai believes that other than less rainfall, another reason behind the water shortage in Beijing is excessive population growth.
He said that the rainfall is almost fixed each year. Even in the years without drought, the surface water and ground water in Beijing is still unable to support the daily consumption of over 17 million people. "The same amount of water was only consumed by 4 million people in the past."
Guaranteeing water supply by using less and finding new sources
Although Beijing lacks water, many Beijing residents have never experienced the inconvenience brought about by water shortage.
"This is because the municipal government has attached much importance to water supply," said Dai. Before this period of drought, Beijing's annual water consumption had reached 4 billion cubic meters. During the 11-year drought, Beijing municipal government managed to reduce the annual water consumption to 3.5 billion cubic meters.
Industry and agriculture were two major sectors which accounted for the high water consumption in Beijing. According to Dai, improvement and the new deployment of water-efficient equipment has caused water consumption to drop from over 2 billion cubic meters to 1.2 billion cubic meters, including 300 million cubic meters of reclaimed water in the agriculture sector. At the same time, the industrial water consumption has decreased from over 1 billion cubic meters to 400 million cubic meters.
It is worth noting that the 3.5 billion cubic meters of annual water consumption includes 600 million cubic meters of reclaimed water. Dai added that Beijing began to include reclaimed water into water resources in 2003. "This is a good way to solve the water problem facing Beijing."
According to Jiang Yong, deputy general manager of Beijing Drainage Group, Beijing has also spent about 5 billion yuan on upgrading and improving sewage treatment plants for the purpose of promoting reclaimed water use. In Beijing, rivers and lakes will be filled with treated water. Meanwhile, treated water will also be used by industrial enterprises and municipal facility management institutions, and will be used to irrigate greenbelts.
After upgrading and improving 9 sewage treatment plants in 2012, 800 million cubic meters of waste water will be recycled into high quality reclaimed water every year, thus saving 800 cubic meters of clean water. If one cubic meter of reclaimed water costs 1 yuan, the use of 800 million cubic meters of reclaimed water will result in a water rate drop of over 2 billion yuan.
Besides using less, finding new sources is a must
Last year, Beijing introduced more than 300 million cubic meters of water from Hebei Province. It had run out by the end of August.
In 2003, Beijing municipal government selected four places in Huairou and Fangshan for underground water extraction, which can provide more than 200 million cubic meters of water per year.
In consideration of the water shortage problem facing Beijing's mountainous areas, the municipal government will strive to find new water sources.
According to Dai, despite the fact that Beijing municipal government has been taking all kinds of measures to guarantee water supply, the government is still under pressure of finding available water sources. The arrival of water from the Yangtze River has been postponed to 2014 from 2010, which will present a big challenge for Beijing in the upcoming four years.
Depending on ourselves apart from the heavens
In early December, Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform released a notice about holding a public hearing on water price adjustment. Bi Xiaogang, deputy director of the Beijing Water Authority, said in an interview that the water price adjustment is aimed at enhancing public awareness of water conservation.
"The contradiction is sure to intensify if there is no water conservation," said Dai. The South-to-North Water Diversion Project, which is scheduled to supply Beijing with water in 2014, can only provide one billion cubic meters of water, so it cannot completely address the water shortage issue. He added, "We should depend on ourselves apart from the heavens to solve the issue."
Dai said that Beijing has taken a series of compulsive measures on agricultural and industrial water consumption, but it can only rely on popularizing the awareness of water conservation when it comes to domestic water consumption.
In fact, despite the water shortage in Beijing, there is a lot of invisible wasting in domestic water consumption that accounts for 54 percent of total urban water consumption. At present, each urban household consumes about 8 tons of water per month on average. A survey conducted by the Beijing Municipal Water Conservation Office shows that Beijing's household water consumption is seriously above standard because 50 percent to 80 percent of households consume more than 8 tons of water per month.
In terms of water price adjustment, Xu Guangjian, a professor at the School of Public Administration under Renmin University and a standing director of the China Price Association, said that if the government uses subsidies to cover water costs instead of raising water prices, consumers will not be deeply aware of the scarcity of water resources.
Zheng Yefu, a sociology professor at Peking University, has similar opinions. An article he wrote about water conservation that was published in 2006 caused much criticism.
Zheng said at the end of his article entitled, "A Luxurious Daily Bath," that saving water would become very easy by introducing a policy which stipulates that Beijing residents, people working in Beijing and their family have a free water limit of between 1 and 2 tons per month, and they have to pay for water above the limit at a price of 100 yuan per ton.
Zheng said that only paying higher prices will force everyone to really understand the value of water. The failure of water conservation in China is due to the fact that water price is too low and that people think they have no need to save water.
In fact, many families in Beijing's communities have realized the shortage of water resources, and have started to use water-saving household facilities. Some water-saving household facilities have been promoted in communities.
People saving water are likely to receive financial awards from the government in the future.
At the Beijing water conservation meeting in 2009, Liu Hong, director of the Beijing Water Saving Office, said that Beijing will start to formulate a water-saving award policy this year and is scheduled to publish a formal document next year. Financial awards are likely to be one of the new water-saving award methods.