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Water Shortages Continue Despite Rise in Storage

Miyun Reservoir, one of the capital's most important drinking water reserves, is witnessing rising water levels for the first time in five years. But the increase is insufficient to meet the city's ever-increasing thirst.

Miyun and Guanting, two major reservoirs, have recorded rises of 120 million and 20 million cubic meters respectively year-on-year, according to a recent document released by the Beijing Water Authority.

An unexpected "abundance of rain" last year helped boost levels, according to the authority's 2004 working report, but the rises are also due to the transfer of water from other reservoirs and neighboring provinces.

A total of 130 million cubic meters of water has been collected from six smaller reservoirs and transferred to Miyun.

A further 90 million cubic meters have also been pumped from Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Beijing has 16 reservoirs in total, but the majority of them have dried up or been polluted over the years, leaving Miyun as the major source of drinking water supplies.

Last year, some 300,000 hectares of agricultural land requiring low water levels was cultivated in rural outskirts, and water consumption by the industrial sector achieved a "zero rise."

Precipitation, meanwhile, in 2004 was 539 millimeters, up 19 percent on that of 2003.

"However, the rising reservoir levels are far from enough to fill the water shortage," said Yu Yaping, a water authority official.

A source close to the authority said the capital consumed around 3.4 billion cubic metres of water last year: 1.2 billion cubic metres for public and residential use, 1.2 billion for agriculture, 800 million for the industrial sector and 200 million for other uses.

"One noticeable point is that of the total consumed, over 76 percent came from ground water," said the source, i.e. not from reservoirs, rivers or other forms of surface water.

Designed decades ago with a capacity of 4.3 billion cubic metres it was expected that Miyun would be able to meet the drinking water demands of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province.

But since 1982, "it has been dedicated to supplying Beijing alone," said Yu.

Liu Peng, an engineer with the authority's water conservancy office, told China Daily that a new round of water economy measures are to be taken this year.

To that end, the authority drafted a new conservancy guideline, which won approval from the municipal legislature in January.

"It's expected to take effect during the first half of this year," said Liu.

At the same time, some newly built public buildings and residential communities are required to have water-recycling facilities.

The city consumed 140 million cubic metres of recycled water last year, representing a utilization rate of 28 percent.

This year, the percentage of recycled water forming the city's total consumption has been set at 30 percent.

"It is set to reach 50 percent by 2008," said Liu.

Mayor Wang Qishan, announced in his working report submitted to the Third Session of the 12th Beijing Municipal People's Congress, the government is to lay 70 kilometers more pipeline for recycled water this year.

Water prices are also set to rise by about 1 yuan (12 US cents) per cubic meter, said Liu.

The Beijing Municipal Committee of the China Democratic National Construction Association has also appealed to the municipal government urging more efforts to protect water sources, mainly located in the city's northern suburbs, especially in Huairou and Miyun districts.

The committee submitted a nine-page proposal to the Third Session of the 10th Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, suggesting that district governments with water sources be required to protect supplies and cut pollution, as opposed to focusing on economic growth.

"When evaluating the achievements of local officials in the districts, we should see whether they've done a good job in ensuring water quality, rather than merely statistical growth in GDP," said the proposal.

(China Daily February 22, 2005)

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