Beijing Water

Beijing’s mirage: A water park in a water-starved city

Brady Yauch
Probe International
March 4, 2010

As Beijing’s water crisis continues to worsen, government officials say they intend to transform the city’s famed Olympic Water Cube into a massive water park, featuring seven-story water slides and a wave machine. Operators of the stadium say the project will cost 200-million yuan ($29-million).

“A Canadian company is designing and building these facilities, to make the venue become one of the biggest and most modern water parks in the world,” Yang Qiyong, deputy general manager of the Water Cube, also known as the National Aquatics Center, said at a recent press conference.

The government—already profiting through it’s State-owned Assets Management Co Ltd from the facility’s ticket sales and commercial events, which brought in 170 million yuan ($25-million) last year—wants to increase its profits. It expects the new plan will bring in an additional 20 million yuan ($3-million) or more this summer.

But the plan comes as Beijing’s water crisis shows no signs of abating, with officials failing to provide a comprehensive plan on where they’re going to get the necessary water—and at who’s expense and at what price—for the new project.

A report by Probe International in 2008 said that 25 years of drought, pollution, and inefficient use have decimated the city’s water resources. The amount of available water resources per person has fallen from around 1,000 cubic metres in 1949 to less than 230 cubic metres in 2007, making Beijing one of the most water-scarce megacities. Per capita water use in Beijing is less than one-thirtieth of the world average.

The Probe International report also said that short-sighted policies have resulted in pollution and indiscriminant use of water resources. “In particular,” the report noted, “[the] political fixation on large-scale engineering projects to keep urban taps flowing at little or no cost to consumers meant that consumption was divorced from consequence without price signals to indicate scarcity.”

Zheng Yefu, a sociology professor at Peking University, agrees. In a paper published last year, he argued that paying higher prices for water will force consumers to understand its true value. He said that the failure of water conservation in China is a result of low-priced, subsidised prices that have allowed consumers to use water wastefully.

Beijing officials seem to be taking note, as they announced late last year that water prices for residential use will increase by 8 percent—following a jump of almost 50 percent in the price of water for non-residential use.

The government has also recently announced that it is forging ahead with construction on the massive South-North Water Diversion project, which will force the resettlement of 330,000 residents and cost an estimated $62-billion—nearly three times the official cost of the Three Gorges dam. The South-North water transfer project is a massive water diversion project to transfer water from the water-rich south to the drought-prone areas of Northern China, especially Beijing.

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