A letter from citizen Yao Wenwei lies at the desk of Gao Erkun, director of water resources management department under the Ministry of Water Resources. He recommended a method of saving water.
"I advise the government to subsidize a household with 2.4 yuan (33 cents) to equip each closestool with a valve so that every closestool is water-efficient. In this way, we could save remarkable water annually and the government could also cut allowance on water." "The National Water Saving Office receives similar letter at least once a week. It shows the public is more aware of the need to save water," Gao said.
China faces a severe challenge with 7 percent of global water resources and roughly 20 percent of its population. The per capita water volume is one fourth of the world average. The country also has a severe regional water imbalance, with about four-fifths of the water supply in the south.
China is fully aware of the problems and seeking ways to improve the situation. In its 11th Five-Year Plan (2006 - 2010), the country plans to reduce per unit of GDP water cost by 30 percent and increase agricultural water efficiency coefficient to 0.5.
Different measures have been taken to save water. Irrigation efficiency has been taken as the answer for reversing groundwater decline. Rural irrigation construction now can help save 20 billion cubic meters of water across the country annually, said Li Yuanhua, deputy-director of rural water conservancy department under the Ministry of Water Resources.
The country started promoting irrigation efficiency from the mid 1980s. The measures also activated a market for water-efficient facilities. The country reported about 200 such manufacturers from merely tens of manufacturers in the 1980s, said Li.
Meanwhile, some scientists argued the spilled water previously considered "wasted" had actually soaked into the soil and recharged the aquifer. They attributed the water table decline in northern China to water lost by evaporation and transpiration from the soil, plants and leaves, according to some scientists with The Nature Conservancy.
More research is underway so that the government can make more scientific policies, Li said.
Besides efforts in the rural areas, China is promoting usage of reclaimed water in the urban areas. Cities are urged to use reclaimed water for toilet flushing and gardening. Increasingly, roads are built with materials that can allow rainwater to permeate into soil. Many landmark buildings for the Beijing 2008 Olympics showcased the most advanced water-saving construction standards in the world.
Under-priced water is also taken as another culprit for water usage inefficiency. Prices have risen very slowly and remain among the world's lowest over the past 20 years, since water became a commodity across China.
City officials in Beijing are carefully going ahead with plans to increase costs to the break-even point of six yuan (83 cents) per cubic meter.
"The city government of Beijing will be careful to increase water prices from five yuan (69 cents) to six yuan (83 cents) too fast this year, but the increase will ultimately happen in the near future because water is becoming rare," said Jiao Zhizhong, director of the Beijing Water Authority to the public on January 19.
Across the country, prices are set at different levels for different types of users, but all priced below cost. Price rises have been dampened by worries of hindering economic growth or adding burden to the poor households.
Besides these efforts, public education is also called upon to promote water saving.
"Trickling can waste 3.6 kg of water in an hour, 2.6 tons in a month and trickling in stream can waste 17 kg in an hour and 12 tons in a month," said Gan Hong, an expert with the Chinese Hydraulic Engineering Society.
"China should strengthen its unsystematic education on water saving.Different from the situation in Europe, China's water resources is not evenly-distributed. As a developing country, China has large population but limited per capita resources. These differences should be added to the education content," said Zhang Haitao, an engineer with Chinese Hydraulic Engineering Society.
Having just finished a study trip to Israel, Gao Erkun said China should learn from that country on water management.
"The per capita water resources in Israel is less than 370 cubic meters. A bottle of water is worth four bottles of milk there. The country implements strict system to use water: all the water resources is monitored and dispensed by the government. With seawater desalination and water pollution treatment, it could meet the society's 700 cubic meters per capita water demand."
The water shortage in Haihe River reaches is almost the same as that in Israel - less than 400 cubic meters per capita, but the water resources management and the public awareness to save water lag far behind the situation in Israel, Gao said.
There is still a long way to go for China to fight the looming water crisis, Gao said.
(Xinhua News Agency February 9, 2008)