Beijing Water

Water crisis exacerbated by games, report says

Shai Oster
Wall Street Journal
June 27, 2008

The Olympics is contributing to Beijing’s worsening water crisis by increasing use of it for sports venues and prestige projects like giant musical fountains, according to a report released by Probe International.

 

BEIJING — The Olympics is contributing to Beijing’s worsening water crisis by increasing use of it for sports venues and prestige projects like giant musical fountains, according to a report by Chinese researchers.

[Water usage graphic]

The report, issued this month, says preparations for the August Games are adding about 5%, or around 200 million cubic meters, to normal water use in Beijing this year. The report says that officials are diverting water from farming in provinces around the capital, and tapping rapidly diminishing reserves of groundwater, instead of promoting conservation that could better address the issue. It says that the situation is a continuation of a long-standing, mistaken approach by the government in its water policy.

“Beijing’s water crisis stems more from decades of short-sighted policies that have degraded its watershed, and a political fixation on large-scale and environmentally damaging engineering projects to keep the taps flowing at little or no charge to consumers,” the report says.

The report was published by Probe International, a Canada-based environmental group, and edited by Dai Qing, a prominent Chinese journalist who was once jailed for her criticism of the Three Gorges Dam. Other Chinese experts who contributed to the report requested anonymity, in part for fear of government reprisals, according to Probe International.

Chinese officials have acknowledged that more work is needed to promote water conservation, but say that rising living standards and a growing population mean that supplies must be increased to meet new demands. Officials say raising tariffs too high would hurt the majority of urban residents, whose incomes are still much lower than in the West.

In one Olympics-related case described in the new report, the government is spending 430 million yuan, or about $62.6 million at current exchange rates, to build a 13-kilometer underground pipe to divert water to a river that has been dry for about a decade, to be used for Olympic rowing. The extra demands posed by the Olympics have forced Beijing to divert water from surrounding provinces, which have been required to guarantee steady supplies to the capital, the report said.

Beijing’s supply of water relative to its population is among the smallest of any of the world’s biggest cities, and is one-thirtieth the world average. Water consumption is between 4 billion and 4.5 billion cubic meters a year, slightly more than the natural supply. Nationwide, China’s available water supply per capita is one-fourth the world average. The biggest segment of demand comes from residential use, which has grown 10 times between 1995 and 2005, and now represents 39% of water use. That’s more than agriculture or industry.

Northern China is a naturally arid region, but it has been especially dry in recent years. Rainfall in the past decade has been 28% below the historical average.

Water is being pumped out of underground supplies much faster than it can be replenished, the report said.

Beijing already has the highest water tariffs in the country, but they need to go even higher to encourage conservation, the new report says.

www.wsj.com

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