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Countermeasures for Alleviating Serious Water Shortage in Beijing


By Zhang Liang & GuShuzhong, Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies

Research Report No 193, 2011

Extreme shortage of water resources is the stern fact for water supply in Beijing. With the rapid urban development and the swift population growth, the increasingly glaring contradiction between large population and scarce water resources has become the more prominent. Water consumption has gone far beyond water supply in Beijing and water shortage has become the worst bottleneck impairing urban development and performance of Beijing's functions.

I. Glaring Contradictions in Present Water Supply and Demand in Beijing

1. Serious starvation of available water resources has made it difficult to guarantee water supply in Beijing

(1) The amount of per-capita water resources is far lower than internationally acknowledged water shortage cordon. Beijing is one of China's most water-starved big cities. At the end of 2010, the number of permanent residents in Beijing reached 19.61 million. Based on the average annual amount of water resources being 2.1 billion cubic meters in Beijing since 1999, calculation indicates that the amount of annual per-capita water resources is only 107 cubic meters, being much lower than the internationally acknowledged annual per-capita water shortage cordon of 1,000 cubic meters and, with the ever-increasing number of permanent residents, the amount of per-capita water resources will continue to decrease.

(2) The amount of precipitation and other water supplies are in serious short supply and the amount of available water resources has decreased drastically. The amount of average annual precipitation between 1999~2010 was 475 millimeters, bringing forth 730 million cubic meters of surface water resources and 1.71 billion cubic meters of groundwater resources (the amount of groundwater resources reached 1.37 billion cubic meters after allowing for the repeated amount of surface and groundwater resources), with the total average annual amount of water resources reaching 2.1 billion cubic meters. Compared with the previous years, the amount of average annual precipitation has decreased by 20% in recent 11 years, the total amount of water resources has dropped by 44%, the volume of entry water has reduced by 77% and the amount of water resources from Miyun Reservoir and Guanting Reservoir has decreased by 79%. As a result, the amount of usable water resources has decreased sharply.

(3) Groundwater resources have been overly extracted and the amount of urban emergency water resources has approached the utmost limit for extraction. Since 2003, Huairou, Pinggu and Changping Districts have been successively built into places of emergency water resources. At the beginning of extraction, the groundwater level was about 10 meters deep underground and the water level has dropped an annual average of 3~5 meters since extraction. The principle of 3-year conservation after 2-year extraction should have been observed, yet the water has been extracted every year for passive reasons. The underground water depth has now all exceeded 40 meters, approaching the utmost limit for extraction.

2. The shortfall in water supply and demand will grow year by year and the risks in water supply security will continue to increase in Beijing during the 12th Five-Year Plan period

The 12th Five-Year Plan period will be the most difficult period for water supply in the history of Beijing and, in particular, the hard shortfall in supply and demand will grow on a yearly basis in the 6 districts of Beijing. Forecasts show1,that during 2011~2015 the annual water consumption by the whole city of Beijing will reach 3.72~4.11 billion cubic meters, of which the consumption of domestic water will reach 1.62~1.86 billion cubic meters, and the annual water consumption by the 6 urban districts of Beijing will reach 1.65~1.79 billion cubic meters, of which the consumption of domestic water will reach 1.05~1.17 billion cubic meters. It is predicted based on the average annual water supply of 2 billion cubic meters respectively in 2009 and 2010 that, through such measures as continuing to overly extract ground water, drawing on Miyun Reservoir and widening the use of regenerated water, there will still be a hard shortfall of 450 million cubic meters in water supply and demand in the 6 urban districts of Beijing, of which the yearly water shortage during 2011~2014 will reach 370 million, 380 million, 650 million and 660 million cubic meters respectively. Even if one billion cubic meters of water will be diverted to Beijing in 2015 under the South-North Water Diversion Project, with 800 million cubic meters to be distributed to the urban areas, but if extraction of emergency water resources is stopped, the tap water supply wells are conserved and the self-supply wells are replaced, there will still be a water shortage of 190 million cubic meters. With the urban economic development and the rapid population growth, the rigid demand for domestic water will grow in an accelerated pace. The contradictions in water supply and demand will become increasingly conspicuous in the future.

II. Major Problems in Water Management in Beijing

1. It is more difficult to get water resources from places beyond Beijing and the water supply restraints will become all the more conspicuous

When local water resources become less capable of meeting water demand, transferring water from other places beyond Beijing has become the main channel for alleviating water crisis. In 2010, Beijing successively transferred water twice from other provinces, with the first transfer from Hebei with 200 million cubic meters and the second from Hebei and Shanxi with 40 million cubic meters. Since 2003, Beijing has transferred water from Hebei and Shanxi for an accumulated total of 8 times. As the completion of the South-North Water Diversion Project has been postponed from 2010 to 2014, the diversion of water resources cannot be conducted on a large scale in 3~5 years' time, therefore, transferring water from neighboring provinces and cities will inevitably become the main choice. Surveys indicate that the water transfer has become increasingly difficult. First of all, when determining transfer prices, it becomes more and more difficult to reach a consensus between both parties. As transfer prices were low in the past, and relevant ecological compensations were not given to places of water supply, the local interests were directly impaired, making it unavoidable to conflict with local residents. In addition, Hebei and Shanxi are water-starved provinces, which are suffering from water supply shortfalls, thus, the two provinces have much difficulty transferring water to Beijing, making it inevitable to increase cost.

2. There have been limited water shortage feasibility study on newly-built projects and water-guzzling projects have not been contained effectively

On one hand, when newly-built projects, after demonstration analysis, are put forward for examination and approval, less importance has been attached to water-guzzling demonstrations. Very often relevant work is done after demonstration analysis is made, and the related indicators are incomplete, plus, project-conducting units evade examinations and falsely report water-consumption information now and then, incurring forced water supply after the projects have been started, thus seriously undermining the overall plan for urban water supply. On the other hand, in case of serious water shortage, some water-guzzling projects have still not been held in check effectively. For example, in terms of the service sector, the number of some water-consumption places of recreation has been increased constantly. Statistics show that more than 3,000 bath centers, 175 golf courses, 22 ski resorts and more than 9,000 car wash centers in Beijing consume 10% or so of the city's yearly water consumption.

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1. Related data are cited from Beijing water resource conservation and utilization plan during the 12th Five-Year Plan period, Beijing Water Supply Bureau, June 2011.