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Capital Water Crisis Worsens

Aquatic activities at Yuanmingyuan Park, in northwestern Beijing, have been suspended for the first time in history because the lakes are running dry.

The temporary policy marks a growing trend of water shortages across the city created by years of drought and a dwindling supply.

Workers began replenishing water in the lakes Thursday, said Duan Qinglin, deputy head of the park's management office.

He said the public might not be able to take part in any water activities, such as boating, until mid-April. By that time, the lakes may have been refilled with enough water.

Duan said Beijing has suffered five straight years of drought and the water level of the park has continued to drop. It had to refill the lakes during the winter last year, in addition to the regular spring and summer replenishments.

Yuanmingyuan Park is not alone.

Weiming Lake at Peking University is also running dry this spring.

The water level is below 30 centimeters in some areas of the lake, and a stone carving of a fish that was once submerged now stands out of the water.

Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace, the largest in northwestern Beijing, faces similar problems.

Li Kun, an official with the palace management office, said her office has just refilled the lake to ensure sightseeing and boating are not disrupted.

Experts say Beijing is in a drought period and the usual water supply of 4 billion cubic meters a year is down to 3.6 billion cubic meters.

One of China's most populous areas, Beijing's average annual per-capita water availability is only slightly more than 200 cubic meters, about one-32nd of the international average.

The municipal Bureau of Water Resources has created an emergency water supply plan to cut extra water use beyond the basic consumption needs of residents and key industries.

According to the plan, water for irrigation will be limited in drought years, and the water levels in lakes and some minor industries will also be cut if the situation worsens.

Many areas in the world, such as Belgium and Melbourne, Australia, also have such emergency plans in order to minimize the impact of water shortages on daily life.

This year, the thirsty city has also started to limit the development of industries that use high levels of water, such as textiles and papermaking.

Zheng Qiuli, an official with the water resources bureau, said the city is trying to create a larger drinking water supply in addition to conserving more.

She said rehabilitation of Guanting Reservoir, the second largest in Beijing, will be finished next year. The water of the reservoir should then be potable again.

Due to severe pollution in Beijing and neighboring Shanxi and Hebei provinces, Guanting Reservoir has not supplied drinking water since 1997.

(China Daily March 19, 2004)

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