Beijing Water

China conservation efforts aid aquifer levels

Wall Street Journal
August 28, 2008

China claims underground water levels in Beijing are rising this year, reversing a nearly decadelong decline, in part because of conservation efforts tied to the Olympics, reports the Wall Street Journal. Probe International and Chinese environmentalists are skeptical.

Underground water levels in Beijing are rising this year, reversing a nearly decadelong decline, in part because of conservation efforts tied to the Olympics.

Aquifer levels in the Chinese capital have risen about half a meter this year, after having fallen about one meter each year since 1999 due to drought. The shortage had forced the city to dig ever-deeper wells, which provide the bulk of its municipal water.

The increase comes despite warnings from environmentalists that the Olympics would contribute to a greater strain on Beijing’s water resources, with water being diverted from neighboring regions to supply everything from competition venues to the 40 million ornamental flowers around the city.

The government has rejected those admonitions. Officials say the water supply has benefited from unusually plentiful summer rains as well as decreasing demand and greater water recycling that the government pushed as part Beijing’s efforts toward a “Green Olympics.” Overall, water consumption fell to less than 3.4 billion cubic meters last year, from 4.04 billion cubic meters in 2000, officials say. Waste-water treatment rates have passed 90% as the city rolled out new treatment plants in time for the Games.

The data suggest that some of the environmental-protection efforts for the Olympics could have a lasting impact. “I think there’s a real legacy here,” says Deborah Seligsohn, director of the China program at the World Resources Institute.

Still, the recent gains won’t overshadow Beijing’s chronic water shortage. According to Probe International, an environmental group, the city’s supply of water relative to its population is among the smallest of any of the world’s major cities. Nationwide, China’s available water supply per person is one-fourth the world average. Government water officials say the biggest segment of demand comes from residential use. Probe International says residential use increased 10 times between 1975 and 2005.

Some conservationists have expressed skepticism about Beijing’s efforts. Probe International alleges Beijing has tapped deep groundwater supplies half a mile underground that are hard to replenish and should be reserved for emergencies.

But officials have denied that. “For Beijing during the Olympic Games, there is no development or exploration of deep groundwater,” Vice Minister of Water Resources Hu Siyi said at a news conference.

In 2001, the government announced a $60 billion project to divert water from the Yangtze River basin to Beijing and the surrounding region to supply more water. One section is supposed to be completed by 2010 to bring water to Beijing. That extra water is meant to ease reliance on the depleted aquifer.

But environmentalists say big conservation efforts are still necessary. “If you don’t do that, the diverted water won’t be enough to fill the gap,” says Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Categories: Beijing Water

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