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Water Conservation Helps Stop Money Going Down the Drain
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Water conservation, for many ordinary Beijingers, is more a money issue than an environmental one.


"When I got my water bill last summer and found that it was more than 200 yuan (US$25), I decided to use less," said Wu Jun, 35, who lives in northern Beijing. "The toilet tank was the first thing I thought of."


New toilets now sold on the market use only 3 liters of water for each flush, but Wu's old type uses 6 liters.


"It would have been troublesome for me to install a new one, so I put bottles into the old tank to take up the space inside," he said.


Although he cannot calculate exactly how much water he saves, Wu feels more at ease.


"I also wash my dishes in a basin now instead of washing them with the water running, which wastes too much water," he said.


Water used for rinsing and washing hands is also saved in a bucket to mop the floor, he added.


More and more Beijingers are realizing the need to conserve water. They have to.


In the past 15 years, the municipal government has raised water rates nine times. The current price is 3.7 yuan (46 US cents) per ton, more than 30 times the price in 1991.


Rate increases are one of the measures to remind the public that Beijing suffers from constant water shortages.


Figures from the municipal water authority's website show each Beijinger has access to less than 300 cubic meters of water a year, which is only one-eighth of the national average and one-thirtieth of the world average.


Beijing has been under drought conditions since 2000. And urban expansion and economic development aren't helping. As a result, the city's shortfall was an average of 400 million cubic meters of water a year since then, Zheng said. For 2006 alone, Beijing is short of 794 million cubic meters, and the figure may climb to 1.182 billion cubic meters by 2010.


According to Zheng Qiuli, an official with the municipal water authority: "Beijing has been played with droughts for years, which is why we have raised the price of water, completed legislation work and strengthened water conservation education efforts."


The work has paid off, at least from a consumption standpoint. Beijing used 4.06 billion cubic meters of water in 2001, Zheng said, but last year the figure dropped to 3.45 billion cubic meters.


Zheng said the city does not have a specific usage goal for 2010, but he did say that all enterprises and 90 per cent of families would be using water saving facilities by then. And following industry's lead, agriculture will also use more recycled water. Again, specifics were not released.




The legal framework covering water conservation is already in force.


"Under the Law of Water, we have methods of water conservation, methods of building and managing water-recycling facilities, punishing and rewarding methods, and all of this had been completed before last year," said Wang Mingming, in charge of the municipal water conservation office.


Among the features, new factories are now required to install water-recycling facilities, hotels are required to use water conserving types of hardware, such as shower nozzles and toilets, and car washes are required to use recycled water.


Enforcement teams carry out an average of 30 special check-ups each year, Zheng said, and they have been strengthened this year.


"In just the past two months, the enforcement teams have carried out more than 10 investigations on hotels with three stars and above as well as at car washes," Zheng said.


In a check-up of 10 three-star hotels on July 11, nine of them were found to be using hardware that uses too much water. Managers of two three-star hotels were quoted by the official website as saying that they had no idea what kind of toilets complied with the government's requirements for water conservation. And besides, they didn't want to close temporarily to install water-conserving toilets because that would cost too much.


But they did change. Following the check-ups, all the hotels met the requirements after they were given a reasonable deadline.


Bigger hotels in Beijing are generally doing better.


The Swiss Hotel has set up a special committee on energy saving, said Jin Fengshui, an engineering department manager for the five-star hotel, which has been open in Beijing for 15 years.


The hotel used to use hardware that was old and consumed more water.


"Despite the difficulties, we have changed all the old hardware in batches and invested 2 million yuan (US$250,000) on installing water-recycling facilities," Jin said.


Discarded water from the air-conditioning system, baths, dry cleaning and boilers in the hotel is now collected, cleaned and recycled to flush toilets and water lawns.


Thanks to these measures, the hotel's annual water consumption dropped from 316,000 tons in 1994 to 170,000 tons last year, a decrease of more than 40 percent.


"On one hand, we are responding to the government's call for energy conservation," Jin said. "On the other hand, it is also in the interests of the hotel itself."


Other five-star hotels, such as the Shangri-la and Kempinski, use recycled water and even rainwater to replace tap water for certain purposes.


Another major focus in enforcement has been car washes, which are now required to install water-recycling facilities and wash cars with recycled water.


"One ton of recycled water can wash 15 cars, while the same amount of tap water can wash only four cars," said Yuan Lisong, a car wash owner who used to sell water-recycling facilities.


Facilities can recycle 85 percent of the water used, he explained.


A recent check-up by municipal water inspectors found that all the 11 car washes inspected met recycling standards, but a later check-up at three other car washes last week found that one of them was still using tap water illegally.


The enforcement team have put the case on record for further investigation. According to the law, a car wash using tap water illegally can be fined up to 20,000 yuan (US$2,500).


Even so, this year's check-up results were better than last year's. The Beijing-based (Legal) Mirror reported that only 30 percent of 78 car washes in the Xicheng District in August 2005 were using recycled water.


"Most of Beijing's car washes are small and their owners cannot afford water-recycling facilities, which usually cost 50,000 to 60,000 yuan (US$6,250 to 7,500)," Yuan said


Rainwater use


Yuan is currently saving more water by collecting rainwater.


He has invested more than 1 million yuan (US$125,000) since 2002 to open four car washes that use rainwater.


The rainwater is stored in tanks and filtered before use. The cost of filtering 1 ton of rainwater is only 1 yuan (US$12 cents). The wastewater from washing cars is collected and recycled again.


One of his car washes in Zhongguancun, which was completed last year, can store 60,000 cubic meters of rainwater. The storage and recycling facilities can together handle 20 million cubic meters a year.


"The investment has not paid for itself yet," Yuan said, "but I believe it will save some of our city's water."


Beijing is also promoting the use of rainwater for irrigation.


Thanks to facilities that collect 900 cubic meters of rainwater a year, a 6-hectare community park in Xiangheyuan in Chaoyang District, can use it to water 90 percent of its grass.


Residents' role


But water conservation is not just the business of government and companies. Everyone can contribute, even individual consumers.


"Families and factories are of the same importance when talking about water conservation," said Xu Jingsong, who lives in the Fengtai District of Beijing.


Xu, in his 30s, installed a small machine in his washing machine to recycle water. The gadget reduces by 120 liters the water needed for one load of clothes to only 45 liters.


On a recent TV show sponsored by the municipal government to promote energy saving, some Beijing residents came up with patented inventions to save water, ideas generated by the needs in daily life.


Wang Yong, a Beijing taxi driver in his 60s, has invented a car-washing device that can be carried in a car and uses only 5 liters each time. The water from a tank is pumped through a hose with a brush at the end.


A woman surnamed Shi has designed a series of attachments to a tap that cuts down water flow.


Yang Guichun, a retired worker, designed facilities in his one-storey house to store rainwater for watering flowers, mopping the floor and washing clothes.


"Energy conservation is both wise and a duty," Yang said. "By getting involved, we will enjoy our lives more."


(China Daily September 12, 2006)

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