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Water Rates to Rise as Beijing's Supply Drops

Water is now the catchword in China's arid capital city. Beijing watches each passing cloud with excitement and even tried "cloud seeding" with dry ice to make it rain.

Beijing residents also pay a great deal of attention to an ongoing evidentiary hearing held by the municipal government on how much it should hike the water price.

"There are many sound reasons for people in Beijing to worry about the water supply," said Liu Zhiqi, secretary general of the Beijing Water Association, noting that the water level of Miyun Reservoir, Beijing's lifeline, is dangerously low.

"The two rivers entering the reservoir offered this year just 18 percent of the water they did in years of abundance, and the water level of the reservoir is 20 meters lower because of drought for five successive years in northern China," he said. Overuse of ground water has led to an annual decline of 1.29 meters in groundwater levels.

Experts warned that the capital city's worsening water thirst will not be quenched until 2010, when the massive South-North Water Diversion Project is completed and brings water from the Yangtze River 1,246 kilometers away.

"However, as the Beijing Olympics in 2008 is approaching and water consumption rises each year amid rapid economic and demographic expansion of the cosmopolitan city, something must be done today," said Bi Xiaogang, deputy director of the newly installed Beijing Water Affairs Bureau, when explaining the government's plan to raise water prices.

According to the proposed scheme, the price for tap water will be lifted by 28 percent, or 0.8 yuan (10 US cents) per ton to 3.7 yuan this year. Of the increase, 0.5 yuan will be invested in the water diversion project, and 0.3 yuan used in wastewater disposal.

Beijing has planned a total investment of 21.2 billion yuan in developing a water-saving industry, exploring emergency water resources and recycling wastewater in the early decades of this century.

Of the total, 6.9 billion yuan for harnessing the upper reaches of its water sources outside the city will be financed by the central government, together with 1 billion yuan of financial subsidy, and the rest shall be raised by the municipal government.

The only thing the city government has to do is to raise water prices, and officials already have plans for price hikes in mind. According to government sources, the average water price will reach 6 yuan per ton next year.

The municipal government will adopt a differentiated charging system on water consumption, which means those who consume more water than average should pay more, and those who use water within a certain quota can pay at a lower price, as a way to ease the financial burden of poor citizens. Spas, saunas and massage centers are expected to pay as high as 100 yuan per ton.

Government officials claimed that by paying more, people will become more aware of the value of water.

Statistics show that China's per capita possession of fresh water resources stands at a mere 2,200 cubic meters, less than a quarter of the world average. However, in 2002, water consumption for every 10,000 yuan of GDP realized in China reached 540 cubic meters, four times the world average level.

Water resource experts said that in 40 percent of Chinese metropolises, at least 12 percent of the water supply is lost due to pipeline leakage and wasteful use.

Local residents and industries have mixed reactions toward the proposed pricing schemes.

"Water is so precious that money can't buy it," said Liu Shuyun, a resident attending the price hearing.

(Xinhua News Agency June 10, 2004)

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