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Crash Drought Water Program*

June 23, 2001

China Announces Extensive Plan to Combat Its Water Shortage


EIJING, June 22 — The Chinese government has announced details of a crash, multibillion-dollar plan it hopes will salvage the deteriorating water supply here, which along with other northern cities has suffered from years of unusually low rainfall and decades of unchecked pollution and poorly planned development.

The plan includes construction of new sewage-treatment plants, the closing of polluting factories, changes in farming practices and graduated pricing of water. It aims to ease the water shortage before Beijing can benefit from another grandiose project — to pipe water from the Yangtze River basin in southern China to the north.

Beijing sits on a plain without large rivers or high rainfall and as its population surged past 14 million, with little conservation, shortages were perhaps inevitable. Urban water needs have soared while the surrounding region has thousands of factories that are polluters and heavy water users and large farming areas that rely on irrigation. Pollution, as much as skimpy supply, has been blamed for the immediate crisis because much water has been rendered unusable.

Until recently, Beijing drew its drinking water from two reservoirs. But since 1997, pollution has forced the city to stop using one of those reservoirs, at Guanting, said Zhang Jiyao, deputy minister of water resources. To make up the deficit, Beijing has resorted to overpumping of underground waters, Mr. Zhang said.

Sewage services have not remotely kept up with the city's growth. Choked by sewage and factory effluents, some river channels here have become virtual cesspools. Only 22 percent of wastewater in greater Beijing is now treated, but officials said the rapid construction of new sewage treatment plants will bring that number to 90 percent by 2005.

With a top-level national coordinating group and a projected 2005 budget of nearly $3 billion — most of it to be provided by the Beijing city government — officials insist that things will change rapidly. "This plan will turn Beijing into an international city with guaranteed water sources and a beautiful water environment," Mr. Zhang pledged, no doubt with the city's pending bid for the 2008 Olympics in mind.

The project aims to restore the Guanting reservoir while improving protection and augmenting flows into the other key source, the Miyun reservoir. Already, irrigation has been stopped in large areas formerly devoted to rice paddies, and water- conserving farm methods will be introduced upstream while other areas are restored to forest and grassland.

Officials offered no details of how they would meet the huge cost of building so many plants and hooking up sprawling communities to the main sewerage system.

(Original Len: 3161 Condensed Len: 3451)

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