Beijing Water

Ski resorts gulp Beijing’s water supplies

(April 29, 2011) In a new report published by the Beijing-based Friends of Nature and Canadian environmental group Probe International, Chinese environmental researcher, Hu Kanping, documents the impact of ski resorts on drought-stricken Beijing.

Probe International

Beijing is in the middle of its worst drought in 60 years.  The situation is so dire that the Chinese Government is spending a billion dollars diverting water to the city from neighbouring areas.  This is in addition to the $62 billiondollar-plus South-North water diversion plan, which will transfer water to Beijing from southern sources as far as 1,000 kilometres away.

Yet, despite the seriousness of the capital city’s water shortage – the per capita water supply in Beijing is 1/40th the world average – the Chinese government continues to underprice water. According to a report in Forbes magazine, the price of water in China is 1/5th of the price paid in Canada – by all counts a water-rich nation. The effect? Neither citizens nor industry in China have an incentive to conserve or use water efficiently.

In a new joint study published by Beijing-based Friends of Nature and Toronto-based Probe International, Hu Kanping, researcher from the China Ecological Civilization Research and Promotion Association,  explores how “extravagant consumption” of cheap water is aggravating Beijing’s water crisis.  The term is a catch-all for luxury uses of water such as golf courses, spas, and pools. But the prize for extravagance surely has to go to Beijing’s ski industry – the main subject of his report.

Though Beijing doesn’t spring to mind as a prime ski destination, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports claims that the city has 17 ski resorts. But, in a city with scant precipitation, all of the snow must be man-made from the city’s diminishing water supply. Mr. Hu’s investigation exposes just how much water is being consumed for this recreational activity.

According to one media report, the ski industry uses as much water as 42,000 Beijing citizens consume in their daily lives each year.  When asked about their “extravagant” usage, ski resort owners, and the bureaucrats who regulate them, are defensive; saying the water they use isn’t removed from the hydrological cycle but recycled back into the ground.  The problem, says Mr. Hu, is that some 70% of the water used by the resorts to make snow is high quality water from the rapidly diminishing aquifers underneath Beijing. Some of it evaporates and the rest drains into the ground, making it effectively inaccessible for use by the city’s residents for years to come.

Some of the ski resorts also claim to use recycled water to make snow but the quality of recycled water in Beijing is so bad that the Beijing Water Authority advises against human contact with it.

Mr. Hu thinks that given the seriousness of Beijing’s water crisis, draconian measures might be needed in the short term, such as outright restrictions on “extravagant” uses of water in order to protect the essential uses of water and sanitation. But, he says, in the long run, the ski industry should and could become a neutral user of the city’s watershed. The key is to charge them, and other extravagant users of water, a much higher rate for the water they use.

“Water prices must be set to reflect the relative scarcity and quality of water from different sources,” says Mr. Hu. “Appropriately high prices will ensure that the true costs of water use will be felt by consumers, spawning conservation and innovation to ensure efficient water use and recovery.”

“By making water expensive enough, or valuable enough,” he argues, “the ski industry would have an incentive to make investments in watershed restoration (by reforestation and careful land use practices), water recycling and reclamation.”

All users of water, says Mr. Hu, whether for extravagant or essential purposes, have a natural interest in maintaining the supply and in protecting the quality of their water. “That interest must be tapped and turned to Beijing’s advantage if the steady decline of the capital city’s watershed is to be reversed. The ski industry is just one of many sectors that must be given price incentives, backed up by a regulatory and enforcement regime, to invest and innovate not only in conservation, but in Beijing’s watershed rehabilitation.”

Click here to read the full report

For an exposé of the extent and seriousness of Beijing’s water crisis, read Probe International’s updated Beijing Olympic Water Report.

Click here to read a  Wall Street Journal blog on the report.

Click here to read China Daily’s “Ski slopes are major drain on capital’s water supplies”.

For more information, contact Probe International Executive Director Patricia Adams at patricia.adams@probeinternational.org2

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