Archive for December, 2010


The water crisis in Beijing

December 28, 2010

The original link to this article with thanks

City needs to mop up waste and reasonably allocate water

Beijing is a city plagued by an increasingly acute water shortage. With four decades of below-normal precipitation and a population that has quadrupled since 1949, some of Beijing’s reservoirs have been drying up. To make up for the shortfall, groundwater is being pumped at an accelerating rate.

However, this scarce resource is not being used reasonably in Beijing. The city’s spas, car washes, private pools and golf courses are prime offenders in this area.

Starting with spas, rising affluence and the accompanying craving for luxury has caused their numbers to explode in recent years. Bathers can pamper themselves in milk and flower spas, natural spring spas, lava rock spas and fish spas, where tiny fish nibble away the dead skin of spa clientele.

These establishments and the city’s bathhouses now annually guzzle millions of tons of water. Moreover, a huge amount of that water comes from Beijing’s groundwater, which is being rapidly depleted by overuse.

Wang Shan, a researcher at the Beijing Water Institute, notes that by 2008, one had to drill 23 feet – as opposed to the 12 feet in 1999 – to obtain water. Data from Shan’s institute indicates that the annual 2.7 billion cubic meters’ worth of groundwater “mined” annually is 600 million cubic meters above the sustainable limit of 2.1 billion cubic meters.

Beijing also boasts a huge car wash industry. Much of the water used is not recycled.

The growing number of wealthy Beijingers has also led to a boom in private swimming pool construction in the expensive villa estates on the outskirts of the capital. The water consumption of these households, of course, significantly exceeds that of Beijing’s less affluent residents.

Finally, the suburbs of Beijing are also now home to numerous golf courses. Indeed, many of the big suburban villas – we call them “McMansions” back in the US – have been built around golf courses in order to boost their sales.

The China News Agency recently reported that 38 standard golf courses studied around Beijing consumed nearly 20 million tons of water annually, which is equivalent to 10 Kunming lakes.

Moreover, a March 31 China Daily story notes that only four of Beijing’s 62 golf courses use recycled water. While this is partially due to a mismatch between their location and that of sewage treatment plants – the latter are mainly in the inner city – it also stems from fear over using such water. However, the case of Florida, where 40 percent of the golf courses have safely used recycled water during the past decade, indicates that such fears are completely groundless.

The Chinese government has made a concerted effort to create a harmonious society and reduce socio-economic inequality. Spending on healthcare and education has been significantly increased and this has begun to make a real difference in the lives of less affluent Chinese people.

But while well-heeled Beijingers frolic in luxury spas and private pools and enjoy rounds of golf near their palatial suburban villas, thanks to the city’s water shortage, less well-off farmers living in the capital’s rural districts face a growing water squeeze. Many have been forced to plant less lucrative crops, like corn, that do not require as much water or, in some cases, abandon farming altogether.

The push to create a more harmonious society urgently needs to be extended to the allocation and use of water in China’s capital.