Beijing Water

Beijing residents worry their city is running out of water, looking to government for action

(June 5, 2010) Three-quarters of those interviewed in a recent survey about Beijing’s water crisis say that they are concerned about the capital city’s water shortages and that they feel pollution and overexploitation of water are to blame. The survey, commissioned by Friends of Nature, China’s oldest environmental organization, was released in Beijing today, World Environment Day.

The respondents worry, the survey shows, the city’s water supply might dry up. They hope the government will take action to reduce the threat as soon as possible.

Beijing’s water crisis has been felt by Beijing’s citizens for some time. But it hit the international news during the 2008 Olympics when Chinese environmentalist Dai Qing and Probe International, the Canadian-based environmental organization, released a study showing that Beijing, once famous for its abundant sweet-tasting water, has become one of the world’s most water-scarce megacities with per capita water use less than one-thirtieth of the world average. Beijing’s groundwater table is dropping because water is being pumped out faster than it can be replenished, the report revealed. Probe International is about to release new data that shows the situation remains dire.

The Friends of Nature survey, conducted by the China Mainland Marketing Research Company, interviewed 803 people in Beijing’s 16 districts and two counties in March and April of this year. The company used a “Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing System” to conduct the interviews.

The results of the survey are as surprising as the survey – in and of itself a novel way to measure public opinion about one of China’s most pressing environmental issues. Most of the people interviewed want to see more water recycled and are prepared to install recycling facilities in their homes. More than 90% of those interviewed want the government to promote the use of recycled water and most are in favour of a step-metering tariff system in which consumers would pay more per unit of water as they consume more.

Also surprising is that more than half of the interviewees would rather alleviate water shortages with conservation and efficiency improvements than by increasing water supplies. Beijing has angered its neighbours in Hebei by diverting that province’s water and channeling it into Beijing, in effect exporting its own water crisis to Hebei. Beijing has also embarked on “the mother of all water diversions” by building a 1000-kilometre canal to bring water from the Han River (a tributary of the Yangtze) to Beijing. The project is expected to deliver its first water by 2014.

Beijing has also dug deeper into its groundwater reserves and aquifers to find more water, extracting hundreds of millions of cubic metres more than is replenished by precipitation each year. That has caused subsidence in the city – literally causing Beijing to sink by almost .8 metres.

Beijing authorities, who held their first public consultation on water price increases last December, may have started a trend. Of those interviewed in the Friends of Nature survey, 53% say they would like to participate in hearings on a water price hike.

Patricia Adams, Probe International, June 5, 2010

Further Reading:

Photos from the conference for the release of the new survey:

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