Beijing Water

Beijing taps emergency water supply

(September 18, 2008) Probe International Fellow Dai Qing is surprised that Beijing is diverting water from Hebei province weeks after the government announced it wouldn’t need to do so for the Olympics.

CHINA’S capital has started pumping “emergency” water from its long-parched neighbouring province, weeks after the Beijing Olympics when they declared the city had enough supply.

Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, will pump 300 million cubic metres of water to the capital from three dams that usually supply nearby farms, towns and cities, the province water office said on its website.

The office did not say whether Beijing was facing a serious water shortfall. But a senior official stressed the importance of getting clean water to the capital and warned against discontent in Hebei, which faces its own water scarcity.

“Fully grasp the importance of transferring this water,” Vice Minister of Water Resources Qiao Yong told provincial officials, according to the Hebei website.

“Strengthen security and protection work for taking the water…do well in protecting stability.”

The water will flow through a 309km canal quickly built for the Beijing Olympics that will later form part of the larger South-to-North Water Transfer Project.

During the Games in August, city officia ls said they did not need the “emergency” supplies that Hebei and nearby provinces set aside in case the “green” Games host city faced shortages.

“I believe the Olympic Games will not pose a big challenge to water supplies in the city,” Water Ministry official Hu Siyi said in mid-August.

But as north China approaches the dry winter season, officials said Beijing now needs the supplies.

Hebei will pump the extra supplies for 174 days until March 2009, the provincial water office said.

“This transfer is all part of a plan,” Lu Shengfang, a deputy director of the South-North Water Diversion Project, which is overseeing the transfer, said.

“North China is chronically short of water, and that includes Beijing… With the unusually rainy wet season ending, we believe Hebei has enough water to supplement Beijing.”

Beijing, with 16 million inhabitants, used 3.5 billion cubic metres of water in 2007, according to city statistics. Much of that comes from dams and underground reservoirs sourced in Hebei.

The capital’s plans to pump the water during the Games met with grumbling from provincial officials, protests and complaints from Hebei farmers and criticism from environmental advocates, who said it encouraged waste.

Hebei ranks near the bottom of China’s 31 provinces and province -status cities in water resources per head, with one eighth of the national average, according to province estimates.

Dai Qing, a Beijing environmental activist who has long criticised the city’s water policies, said she was mystified by the sudden announcement.

“I’m puzzled why now, after they said they would need Hebei’s water for the Olympics, and then said they wouldn’t,” she said.

The Daily Telegraph, September 18, 2008

Read PI’s report on Beijing’s water crisis

Read Dai Qing’s Beijing Water Oral History Series

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