Beijing Water

Car washers clean Beijing dry

(August 13, 2010) Beijing car washers are driving China’s water-strapped capital to a dry end faster, says Lisa Peryman. Beijing News reports that in spite of a water crisis, the city’s car-washing industry consumed around 30 million tons of water last year—the equivalent of 12 Kunming Lakes, the 298 km2 central lake created for Beijing’s Summer Palace—none of which was reused.

A recent report tracking the flow of water to China’s capital city, found that not only does Beijing pump more of its precious groundwater than rainfall and seepage can replenish, it is now draining neighbouring provinces of their water too with long distance water diversions. The authors of the updated Beijing’s Olympic Water Crisis Report, environmental journalist Dai Qing and Probe International, call the situation “dire”.

Yet, despite the crisis, car washers are resisting paying the full price of water for their operations. To keep prices to car-wash customers low, for example, illegal car washers are stealing water from the city’s self-supply wells.

Wang Zhengliang, the vice-director of Bejing’s Water Administration and Law Enforcement Office, said he hoped users would think about the greater cost of cheap car washes.

Not only are cheap operators stealing “domestic water almost for free,” he told China Daily, they are not licensed to manage waste water, which they pour into the city’s gully traps that lead directly into Beijing’s river system.

According to the municipality’s water conservation rules, car-washing operations must have facilities to reuse water onsite, as well as use reclaimed water. Some car wash operators argue, however, that installing facilities to reuse water is too expensive and too much for small businesses to bear.

According to China Daily, car washing at an illegal-run business can cost as little as five yuan compared to 40 yuan elsewhere. Xing Yulong, the director of a car-washing operation with 14 outlets, uses equipment to capture and reuse water at a cost of 180,000 yuan per unit.

“Another few thousand yuan is needed every half a year to change the enzyme used in the equipment because it will gradually cease to be effective,” he says.

But making users and operators pay, nevertheless, is a price many city residents are prepared to support according to a survey and petition released in June by China’s oldest environmental organization, Friends of Nature (FON).

The FON survey found that the majority of the 803 Beijing residents interviewed favoured restricting extravagant water users. Seventy percent of respondents believed that certain uses of water—mainly for baths, car-washing and luxury water consumption such as ski resorts, golf courses and so on—are wasteful. Most respondents believed the best way to deal with Beijing’s water shortage was through conservation, water recycling, and a step-metering tariff system that would force consumers to pay more per unit of water, the more water they consume.

An amendment to the city’s 2005 Beijing Water Conservation Management Practices is expected at the end of this year and is set to include new and tougher sanctions specifically aimed at the city’s car wash industry.

Lisa Peryman, Probe International, August 13, 2010

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