Beijing Water

Flushing it all away: Residents in Beijing caught wasting water

Brady Yauch
Probe International
April 1, 2010

Residents in drought-stricken Beijing are, literally, flushing their water resources away.

Beijingers flush around 80 million to 100 million tons of tap water each year, as a number of residential compounds are currently not using their water-reclamation systems, says Beijing Today. A recent investigation said that of the 100 residential compounds equipped with a water-reclamation system, only 18 were actually using it.

“As far as I know, 90 percent of residents are not using recycled water,” Peng Gong, an engineer at Beijing Heshengbeifang Development Company told the paper. “Many residents even bring in plumbers to disconnect from the system and hook their toilets into a tap feed.”

According to the paper, property management companies blame the municipal supply system, which only serves 200 residential compounds in the city.

Yu Yaping, a spokesman for the Beijing Water Authority, says factories, farms and municipal green work consume the most recycled water—leaving little for residents. According to Yu, as much as 650 million tons of reclaimed water were used last year, but that was still short of the demand from those sectors.

The worst of the bunch seems to be Beijing’s bath industry, which Friends of Nature, an environmental NGO, says consumes 81 million tons of water per year—41 times the volume of Kunming Lake. Most of the public baths use deep underground water—an unsustainable practice.

Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, says the government should implement strict regulations on the opening of new public bathhouses, which should have new, more efficient shower nozzles, and regulations for water consumption.

Government officials are taking note. They say they are going to begin investigating sites with a high demand for water—such as hotels, restaurants, public baths and construction sites—and fine businesses lacking water-saving facilities up to 100,000 Yuan. Officials are also reportedly considering metered water prices for household consumers.

Beijing’s water problems are well known. 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 mega cities in the world. 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 indiscriminate 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.”

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