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Water Price Hikes Expected in Beijing

Beijing held a public hearing on Thursday to solicit opinion on an unprecedented reform of its water pricing system. Residents and businesses are bracing themselves for substantial hikes.

The majority of the 30 public delegates attending the hearing consented to the proposals that the price of water be raised by 30 percent on average. Once endorsed, average price for a ton of water will climb to 5.14 yuan (62 US cents) from the current 4 yuan (48 US cents).

Debates are expected to heat up as other municipalities and provinces, nearly all suffering from water shortages, make moves to follow suit. Inflation also remains a serious concern.

The delegates, representing consumers, industry and government, urged pricing authorities to give special consideration to low-income groups and provide them with subsidies in event of a hike.

Many of the delegates also pointed out that the Beijing Tap Water Group and related government organs should make more efforts to repair dilapidated pipelines and prevent water leakage and waste.

At Thursday's hearing, which lasted about four and a half hours, the city's water bureau, Beijing Tap Water and the sewerage group submitted three proposals asking for hikes in water resource fees, tap water fees and sewage treatment fees.

According to the proposals, the general water price-combining all three fees--for residential use would increase to 3.7 yuan (48 US cents) per ton from current 2.9 yuan (35 US cents).

A proposal was also submitted to implement from July 1 this year the long-discussed progressive water pricing system. It would require customers whose water use exceeds pre-established levels to pay high fees for the excess amount.

Liu Suoxiang, deputy general manager of Beijing Tap Water, said the progressive pricing system has three tiers, based on monthly household water consumption.

Liu said the plan uses a four-member family as the model, and the basic water quota is three tons per person every month.

So the basic quota of a household is 12 tons a month at 3.7 yuan (45 US cents) per ton, Liu said.

Those who exceed the quota would have to put up to five times more for the extra water.

The highest fee level targets luxurious water use such as for family swimming pools, and its prohibitive price is expected to encourage people to save water, Liu said. He also pointed out that families with four or fewer members make up over 90 percent of the households in Beijing.

Most delegated at the hearing agreed to the progressive pricing system, but some suggested that its overall implementation Beijing should be postponed.

Liu Zhiqi, one of the deputies and also secretary of the China Water Association, suggested that the local authorities could try the new system in several communities first. He pointed out that in many traditional courtyards residences, there is only one water meter for three or more households.

The water group should expedite the upgrading of water meters to ensure the progressive pricing system can be implemented smoothly, said deputy Zhang Ying.

In addition to the price reform for residential use, the general price for water will soar to 100 yuan (US$12) per ton for commercial baths and 60 yuan (US$7.30) per ton for car washes and the purified water industries.

Beijing Development and Reform Bureau Deputy Director Chai Xiaozhong said imposing prohibitive water prices on bathing and other water-consuming businesses was aimed to use prices as policy leverage to curb the development of these industries.

Chai said his bureau would make some changes to the proposals based on the opinions and suggestions put forward by the deputies, and then submit the revised version to the municipal government for approval.

(China Daily June 4, 2004)

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