Ski slopes are major drain on capital's water supplies

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Ski slopes and resorts are a waste of resources and are exacerbating the capital's chronic water crisis, according to an NGO report released on Tuesday.

Interest in the winter sport has boomed in Beijing in recent years, with at least 17 ski facilities now operating across suburban and downtown areas.

However, to make artificial snow, these slopes are using at least 1 million tons of water every year -the equivalent of 8,300 households, say Friends of Nature researchers in their 2011 Annual Report on Environment Development of China.

"The key problem is not how much water is being taken up by the skiing industry, but whether it is suitable for such a water-guzzling industry to thrive in Beijing, a city that is already thirsty," co-author Hu Kanping told METRO.

Last winter was the driest in more than six decades, resulting in water resource authorities putting Beijing's shortage at an estimated 1.8 billion cubic meters. However, visitor numbers to the capital during Spring Festival rose more than 50 percent in 2010, with many hitting the slopes, according to statistics from the city's tourism office.

Hu warned that the skiing industry also soaks up huge amounts of electricity, with almost 500 kW hours of electricity per day needed to power just one snowmaker, while construction of ski runs also requires chopping down any trees in the way, which causes serious ecological damage to mountainous areas.

"When the snow melts in spring, the mountains will be bald, causing sand dust (storms) in the city and soil erosion," he added.

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the government's plans to deal with water scarcity in the capital, starting with the so-called strictest water management system ever, which blocks the launch of new enterprises that consume large amounts of water, such as spas, ski resorts and golf courses.

"Still, there should be more restrictions on existing water-consuming industries," said Hu.

"The media should consider their social responsibility when promoting activities (like skiing and golf) so that the people are aware of the cost of consumption."

As a member with the Friends of Nature, Hu has worked on a series of studies looking into the consumption of water by luxury industries in Beijing, which are all included in the annual report.

The theme for 2011 is skiing, while last year he focused on the bathing industry - including saunas and swimming pools - and found that the number of thermal springs and spas in the capital increased from 39 in 1989 to more than 3,000.

The average water consumption of a guest is three to five times the daily amount used by an ordinary citizen. Next year, Hu will explore the golf industry.

This year marks the sixth Annual Report on Environment Development of China edited by Friends of Nature. All of the compiled data will be distributed to the relevant authorities, while an English version of the report is expected to hit the shelves in a couple of months.

"We hope to reveal to the world the real environmental problems in China, as well as our attitudes to deal with them. The attitudes of the public, not the government," added Xie Shouguang, director of Social Sciences Academic Press, which publishes the report.

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