Mar. 23, 2023

Per capita water supply Beijing drops to one-tenth the international standard

Date: May 18th , 2011

Source: www. people. com. cn

Reporter: Yue Jia



People’s Net, May 18th , 2011, Yue Jia:

The Beijing Water Authority this week revealed that the per capita quantity of water resources in Beijing has dropped to 100 cubic meters; this is much lower than the internationally recognized water shortage warning line, 1000 cubic meters per person. The city’s per capita quantity of water resources is equal to one-tenth of the international warning line, indicating a very serious water shortage in Beijing.

“There are quite a lot reasons for this severe water shortage in

Beijing. Apart from some objective factors, the lack of water conservation awareness is one of the reasons. There are also some problems in the mode of using water resources and water allocation,” said Tao Fu, director of Water Industry Policy Research center at TsinghuaUniversity, when he was asked by the People's Net reporter. He thought the present water prices do not completely reflect the scarcity of water resources. Water prices should be set appropriately in the future, letting enterprises and individuals bear more economic responsibility, “Without an appropriate water pricing system, it is hard to really practice conservation”.

What is the cause of such a severe water shortage

Beijing has always been short of water. For twelve years,


Beijing has suffered the longest and the most severe drought since 1949, during which the average amount of rainfall dropped by 120 millimeters compared to before. According to the data from the “Beijing Water Resources Report of 2009”, Beijing has 6.76 billion cubic meters of surface water resources, which is 62% lower than before.  Meanwhile, groundwater resources measure 15.08 billion cubic meters, which is 6.34 billion cubic meters lower than last year.

"Continuous drought and the delay of the South to North Water Project are intensifying the water crisis in Beijing. Meanwhile, the need for water for economic and social development is increasing, which means the ability of Beijing to guard water resources is really insufficient,” said Jing Cheng, the chief of Beijing Water Authority, during the activities around the 19th World Water Day in March of this year.

According to Tao Fu’s analysis, there are quite a few reasons for the serious water shortage in Beijing.  The lack of water conservation awareness is one of the reasons, and there are also some problems in the mode of using water resources and water allocation. Water conservation awareness is continually being promoted, but  the outcomes so far cannot be compared with Israel, Singapore and other water-saving areas. Our water conservation work is mostly limited to propaganda slogans which aren’t really incorporated into people's daily behavior.

Surface water, groundwater, renewable water, water from the South to North Water Project and water for emergencies constitute five important water sources in

Beijing. Yuhua Dai, the director of the Water Resources Section of the Beijing Water Authority, explained that in recent years Beijing has met its water needs mainly by over exploiting groundwater, using water in reservoirs, and transporting water from surrounding areas.

The potential danger of over exploiting groundwater should not be underestimated. Tao Fu points out that deep groundwater is a non-renewable water resource. Ground water levels in

Beijing have fallen rapidly in recent years, forming funnels. What’s more, in order to reduce labour hours and costs when constructing the subways, destructive construction methods have been adopted, which further intensifies the depletion of ground water. “Over exploiting groundwater will cause ecological deterioration, which cannot be ignored.”

Luxury water consumption aggravates the water crisis in Beijing

In the launch ceremony for the “Environmental Development Report of China in 2011" in April of this year, environmentalist Kanping Hu pointed out that Beijing reached a high tide of luxury water consumption in 2010. Recreation programs using man-made snow were unusually popular, which caused a huge waste of water resources and ecological destruction, and further intensified the city’s water crisis.


Kanping Hu told us that the annual amount of water used for man-made snow in

Beijing was more than 100 tons, which equals the total amount of water for 8,300 families in Beijing for one year. “Most of the man-made snow will evaporate or be absorbed into the ground, which cannot be recycled and results in a huge waste of water”.

Some commentators suggest that  Beijing should prohibit the high-end spa industry and water-intensive industries like skiing and golf; limit dated, high water consuming and inefficient producers; and abandon projects and companies which do not conform to Beijing’s industrial plan. Only in this way can we significantly reduce our demand for and consumption of water.

In Fu Tao’s opinion, the above problems are related to the inverted price of water..The current price of water does not reflect the scarcity of water resources, but the cost of the project. The future price of water should be reasonably set, forcing enterprises and individuals that have the ability to take on more financial responsibility, “If the price of water is not set properly, we cannot achieve water conservation”.

“If the price is too low, in fact, it subsidizes the big water users.” Fu Tao predicts that the future price of water in

Beijing will increase along with the rising prices of other resources.

Conflict between population expansion and resource shortages

The conflict between a growing city, population expansion, and a shortage of resources in Beijing have become increasingly evident. Resource and Environment Economics professor Dongmin Hou at ReminUniversity has suggested that more attention must be paid to the severe water crises resulting from rapid population growth, and that population control is imperative.

According to Dongmin Hou’s analysis, for many years the average volume of water resources in

Beijing has been about 3.7 billion cubic meters. Based on a current population of nearly 20 million, and even including the future 10 billion cubic meters of long-term stable water supply from the South to North Water Project, the per capita volume of water will be less than 250 cubic meters. Rapid population growth in Beijing makes the relationship between people and environment highly vulnerable. Reducing the population growth rate has became the most important developmental task of Beijing’s Twelfth Fifth Year Plan.

However, some scholars believe that the above view not only underestimates the influence of technical and institutional innovation and the ability of management tools to the contain the urban population, as well as the dynamic effects of the carrying capacity of the national population, but it also ignores the major role of market mechanisms in regulating migration and population growth.They also cite the examples of Israel and Las Vegas to illustrate that a lack of resources does not stop citizens from coming to developed cities to realize their dreams.

Fu Tao believes that

Beijing’s population size cannot be controlled through administrative means like the household registration (hukou) system. Population expansion is inevitable, and advertising “high welfare and low prices” is bound to produce injustice: since people with vested interests already enjoy this treatment and people who have not enjoyed the treatment will come in great numbers. “Beijing should use market-based instruments more often in the future, rather than just relying on administrative means to intervene in urban development.”

“The low price of public services will further aggravate the “big city disease.” People come to areas which are relatively rich in resources, which in turn increases the pressure on water resources and traffic, forming a vicious cycle.” In Fu Tao’s view, people living in

Beijing should pay higher prices for public services like medical treatment and transportation. An appropriate price system is the most effective means of regulation. 

In 2011, in the spirit of the central government’s Number 1 Document issued earlier in the year,


Beijing issued “Views on Further Enhancing the Reform and Development of Water Issues”, which proposed to adjust water prices for urban households during the period of the Twelfth Fifth Year Plan by implementing a ladder approach to raising water prices step by step.


“Ladder water pricing is an effective means to promote water saving through economic instruments, playing a role in controlling water use,” says Fu Tao, “There are many cases in the international community to prove that per capita water consumption will be reduced appropriately after the implementation of the price ladder”.


Other means for increasing resources and reducing costs in the future 

In terms of increasing water resources, the potential of recycled water is still huge. The Beijing Water Authority revealed that incentives to use recycled water will be introduced this year. The rewards to enterprises which use recycled water instead of tap water include government subsidies, increased water quotas, and so on. The use of recycled water by households will also be promoted. In this regard, Tao Fu points out that innovative water resources such as recycled water, desalinated water and rainwater can directly improve the efficiency of water resources.  Recycled water is expected to become


Beijing’s “second water resource”.

At present, the total volume of water use in Beijing has been reduced from over 40 billion cubic meters in the 1990s to about 35 billion cubic meters, resulting largely from a significant decline in agricultural water use. But scholars have pointed out that there is still enormous potential for further reducing the consumption of water resources in Beijing by changing the mode of development, industrial restructuring, and technological and institutional innovation.




Translator: Xiaoxin Ding, Jia Luo

Proofreader: Jessica Wilczak




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