As of this year, the 120,000 people living along the Tarim River, China's longest inland river, are no longer entitled to free unlimited use of the river's water as they have been for decades.
"The preparatory work for charging water supply fees has entered the final stage, and the formal fee collection will also cover the past eight months since January 1," said Wang Jianzhong, deputy director of Xinjiang Tarim River Valley Administration.
According to the standard set by the Xinjiang Autonomous Regional Government, the use of one cubic meter water from Tarim River will cost 0.39 fen (0.0039 yuan). In order to more accurately assess the water consumption volume, more than 30 new supervision stations have been set up along the Tarim River.
With a total length of more than 1,300 kilometers, the Tarim River is the most important water source of south Xinjiang. However, the ecological environment along the river continued to deteriorate during the past several decades due to population increase, excessive reclamation and over use of water.
Since the 1970's, the lower reaches of the Tarim, a 300 kilometer river stretch, began to dry up.
Wang blamed over use of water and waste for the change to a charge system, which posed a major hurdle to reasonably utilize the river's water resources.
To date, the river valley of the mainstream of Tarim is home to 120,000 people and covers 86,667 hectares of farmland.
In 2001, the Chinese government earmarked a total of 10.7 billion yuan (about US$1.3 billion) to launch a Tarim River comprehensive management project, in which advanced irrigation technologies are introduced to farmers living at the upper and middle reaches of Tarim to reduce water consumption on agriculture.
To date, local farmers use less water for irrigation, saving 300 million cubic meters of water every year for the river's thirsty lower reaches.
The Tarim River Water Resources Committee was jointly established by the State Council and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Government to unify the water consumption management of 42 counties or cities and 55 farms in Xinjiang.
Xia Xuncheng, research fellow with Xinjiang Ecology and Geography Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), noted that to charge fees for river water consumption should be an effective method to force people to save water and improve the ecological environment along the river.
A German professor who studied the ecological environment of the Tarim River said that charging fees for river water consumption was regarded in Europe as an advanced method to protect river ecology. He suggested Tarim River Water Resources Committee increase the water consumption fee for Tarim River so that the river ecology could be more effectively protected.
Wang said that once the Tarim River comprehensive management project is completed, the fee for river water consumption will be increased by 10 times.
(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2003)