Water conservation will have become a way of life across the nation by 2020 to match a relatively well-off society.
"The crux of building a water-saving society in China will depend on what we are going to do in the next 15 years," said Suo Lisheng, vice-minister for water resources.
He noted that "building a water-saving society is the best strategy for China to tackle an ever-increasing water crisis a problem facing the country since last century."
The ministry responsible for water will host the Water Expo China 2006 from April 26-29 next year at the Beijing Agriculture Exhibition Center, focusing on "guaranteeing drinking water security and building a harmonious society," according to Suo.
The expo will showcase the latest products and technology related to water conservation.
A high-level forum on water use will be held on the sidelines of the main conference.
Suo believes there is a large potential market for water-saving products in the years ahead.
"With China's rapid industrialization and urbanization, the shortage of water resources has become one of the major sectors restricting the country's economic development and progress of society," Suo said.
Options include grand plans for usage, a revision of payment systems and reasonable pricing to limit consumption quotas for different regions and purposes.
Meanwhile, water recycling, pollution control and more efficient technology for industries and farming must be further developed to make full use of the existing water supply infrastructure.
To propel the water-saving campaign forwards, "the prices of water must be used as a major way to force users to make full use of the limited water quotas they have paid for," Wang Shucheng, minister of water resources, said.
The ministry has introduced successful pilot projects in Zhangye in northwest China's Gansu Province, Mianyang in southwest China's Sichuan Province and Dalian in northeast China's Liaoning Province, he said.
The local government of Zhangye, in a semi-arid region, has clearly defined and distributed water use rights to safeguard its limited supply.
Wang urged local governments in other areas to follow suit, considering water resources as they develop.
The national per capita water allocation is less than 2,200 cubic meters, or only a quarter of the world average. The figure is only 990 cubic meters in North China's drought-prone regions.
The figure will hit a record low of 1,750 cubic meters in 2030 as the population peaks at an estimated 1.6 billion people, experts forecast.
The country's total water consumption will reach 700 to 800 billion cubic meters by 2030, approaching the absolute limit.
"By then, China may be plunged into a water crisis with such a situation and its capacity for exploiting further water supply would become much more difficult than today," Suo said.
In a regular year, water shortages amount to an average 40 billion cubic meters, with 75 percent needed to irrigate farmland, according to experts.
Drought has, since 1991, affected more than 27 million hectares of farmland every year more than a fifth of the country's total. The result has been a reduction in grain output of more than 28 billion kilograms.
Today, among 660 Chinese cities, more than 400 are short of water, and the situation is very bad in more than 100 cities including Beijing and Tianjin.
More than 230 billion yuan (US$27 billion) worth of industrial output is lost every year throughout China due to water shortages.
The nation consumed an average of 465 cubic meters of water for each 10,000 yuan (US$1,204) of gross domestic product achieved in 2003, about four times the global average, according to the latest figures from water resources authorities.
(China Daily May 6, 2005)