Beijing’s Water: Supply and Demand

At China Dialogue, Yin Mingwan of the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research explains that, ambitious as it is, the South-North Water Diversion project is not a comprehensive solution to Beijing’s water shortages, which must also be addressed by behavioural changes:

As we talk, Wang buys a bottle of water and throws it away half-finished. “Don’t you want the rest?” I ask. She laughs. “It’s OK, there’s drinking water at work. It’s heavy and ruins the look of my bag. I just don’t believe the capital city will run out of water – just wait until the South-North Water Transfer Project is up and running. Then there’ll be nothing to worry about.”

Residents like Wang may be counting the days, or years, to completion of the government’s mega transfer project, a multibillion dollar infrastructure scheme that plans to draw water from rivers in the south of China and pump it to the dry north. But will it really solve the capital’s growing water problems and allow the residents to carry on carelessly wasting water? Everyone is calling for “sustainable development”, but what does that actually mean when it comes to curing Beijing’s chronic water shortages?

Yin Mingwan is senior engineer at the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research. In an interview, he explained to me that the transfer project is just a short-term solution: “Just because there’s demand doesn’t necessarily mean there’s supply to satisfy it, particularly when it comes to water. The transfer project will relieve Beijing’s water shortage for quite some time into the future, and there’ll be no risk of ‘drought’, but it’s not a permanent solution.

“If we don’t plan and manage water consumption, if we just allow a constant and unlimited increase in water demand, one day we’ll reach a point where water shortages are placing limits on urban expansion and social and economic development.”

See also Olli Geibel’s previously featured photographs documenting the state of Beijing’s water resources, and an overview of the South-North Water Diversion which shows a range of different expectations for the project.

December 22, 2010 3:05 PM
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