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Saving Beijing’s reservoirs

As the Olympics approaches, the Chinese capital's fragile water supply is in the spotlight. Jiang Gaoming explains how to prevent contamination risks in Beijing’s water – and ensure an adequate supply.

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An environmental volunteer I know in the town of Chicheng, Hebei province, recently emailed me to say that an elementary school was dumping excrement directly into a local river. The school paid about 1,000 yuan (US$143) to have the waste from its toilets taken away and dumped into the Hei River, which feeds into the Miyun Reservoir, from which Beijing draws much of its water. My friend, outraged, made a video of the process to show as evidence of the pollution entering Beijing’s drinking water. 

Beijing suffers from a severe lack of water: the quantity of water available per head is only one-thirtieth of the global average. Guanting Reservoir, the first major reservoir to be built after 1949, drew water from a 43,000-square-kilometre basin. Once completed, it provided a total of 39.6 billion cubic metres of water and irrigated 1.1 million mu (734 square kilometres) of land. However, upstream industrial and economic activity reduced the flow and polluted the water. The quality of the water fell to class five or worse, which forced Beijing to stop drawing water from Guanting in 1985. The city now takes its water from the Miyun and Huairou reservoirs. But the outlook for the Miyun Reservoir is not good: the amount of water it can supply is plummeting, and it suffers from an excess of nutrients. As well as the dumping of excrement, this is also caused by the surface run-off from fertilisers and pesticides.

Although Beijing is improving its protection of water sources and has had some successes, there are still major problems, particularly when it comes the city’s poor use of funds. Liu Baoshan, chair of the city’s rural affairs committee, says that of the 150 million yuan (US$21.5 million) fund to protect water sources, only 80 million yuan (US$11.5 million) was actually used for this purpose. Of Beijing’s 547 minor river basins, 266 remain untreated. At the current rate of progress – treating 20 rivers a year – it will take 13 years to even complete even the first stage of the process. This will not quickly improve Beijing’s water sources – as is needed – particularly when, in some cases, “treatment” actually makes the problem worse. The project will also fail to deal with problems further upstream and out of reach of the Beijing government.

The protection of upstream water sources in China tends to mean the creation of forests; little attention is paid to pollution from agriculture or animal and human excrement. Beijing plans to spend 100 million yuan (US$14.3 million) between 2007 and 2011 assisting Zhangjiakou and Chengde, in Hebei province, to complete a 200,000-mu (134 square kilometres) project to protect water sources. Other measures include extending a project designed to protect Beijing and Tianjin from sandstorms to cover restoration of vegetation and the protection of water sources. But there are no projects aimed at reducing pollution from manufacturing, agriculture and the general population – including the question of excrement.

In fact, excrement is a useful agricultural resource; currently, it is even a scarce one. Modern agriculture has replaced organic fertilisers with chemical alternatives and pesticides. This presents a major challenge to the protection of water sources. Policies must also account for the interests of local people in poor areas. Beijing could, at no great cost, change the way upstream agriculture operates and encourage the use of organic fertilisers instead of chemicals; the use of straw to feed livestock; dung to fuel methane power generation; and the by-products used as fertiliser – rather than being dumped into rivers. Beijing’s consumers could enjoy organic products produced upstream, the farmers could have a secure income and the rivers would be cleaner.

Based on studies and discussions with experts, I recommend that Beijing focuses its efforts in the following way:

 

First, establish an Environmental Security Reserve for Beijing water sources that includes the Miyun, Guanting and Huairou reservoirs, which can ensure water quality and adequate water supplies in accordance with the State Council’s guidelines on environmental protection. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Water Resources, and with close cooperation between the city of Beijing and the provinces of Hebei and Shanxi, a unified mechanism should be established to solve the current problems of decentralised management. Once this is established, land use can be adjusted and planned scientifically.

 

Second, use market mechanisms to link water consumption downstream with water protection upstream, forming a positive feedback mechanism. Upstream areas should change traditional land use patterns, reduce population and livestock pressures and free up large areas of land for forests and grasslands – areas that currently produce agricultural products instead of water. Compensation for this will be provided from Beijing’s water bills. Any remaining agriculture should be organic, using human and animal excrement as fertiliser, which will increase income from the land while reducing and ultimately abandoning the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

 

Third, ecological management must be linked to poverty alleviation and wealth creation. The challenges faced in protecting water sources are manmade problems. We should take the initiative by helping these areas solve energy problems with methane production technology and a more distributed infrastructure. We must also help with hygiene by building waste and water treatment plants. This will ensure the areas have adequate vegetation coverage, produce enough water, and it will guarantee that the water flowing into reservoirs is clean.

 

There is no time to waste in protecting Beijing’s water sources: it is an issue that impacts on the safety of Beijing’s residents, our national image and the success of the Olympics. We must act soon. Everyone involved should work closely together to create a program for sustainable water use, solve these problems and improve the environmental quality of the areas providing the capital’s water.

Jiang Gaoming is a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Botany. He is also vice secretary-general of the UNESCO China-MAB (Man and the Biosphere) Committee and a member of the UNESCO MAB Urban Group.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

北京的好处

住在北京还是很不错的,各地都要做出牺牲保证我们的供水供电。有时候真不忍心,像河北山西这么缺水的地方还要支援北京。

The benefits of living in Beijing

Living in Beijing is a real blessing, since all other places have to make sacrifices to ensure Beijing's water and electricity supply. It is really sad to think that places like Hebei and Shanxi, which suffer from water shortages themselves, still have to contribute water to Beijing.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

有谁清楚北京的水危机?

小道消息:由于担心从河北四个水库引水支援北京奥运遭受舆论批评,北京已经暂停该项计划,据称要立足本地解决奥运时期供水问题。立足本地惟有动用地下水。而地下水已经占到全市供水总量的2/3。
有些问题一直没有弄清楚:北京到底还有多少水?北京的水危机到底有多严峻?近年来对地下水的超采已经造成的地面沉降、地下漏斗等一系列环境问题,超采还要继续到何时?
北京的水资源浪费依然严重。专家们有时拿北京和以色列相比,但应对水危机时,这个城市到处可见绿地漫灌,清水从粗大的水管里哗哗流出,甚至溢流到街道上,日益拥堵的街道上新上牌照的汽车每天都在增加,没有人算一算洗车浪费掉多少水,节水技术并不高的农业,依然耗费了这个城市用水量的一半以上。
北京的水污染问题已经凸显。不说别的污染源,仅北京市一天的垃圾就有1.5万吨,盲目堆放已经形成北京地下水污染源。南水北调进京后,地下水位上升,不仅有些建筑会受到水压的上顶力的影响,垃圾堆放地也极易产生新的水质污染问题。
这些都是问题,还有很多问题,但是最大的问题是我们不知道问题的真实情况。如果这些信息能够清晰地呈现在公众面前,我想,大家都会积极去想办法,也会真正自觉地去珍希每一滴水。
我们需要的是一些面对现实的勇气,告诉大家真实的情况,天是不会塌下来的。

Any insider’s comments on Beijing’s water crisis?

Rumour has it that out of concern over possible public criticism over the transfer of water from four reservoirs in Hebei to Beijing, the Beijing government has put the project on hold. Reportedly Beijing will try and meet water demands during the Olympic Games with its local water reserves. That means tapping into groundwater resources. Up until now, groundwater already accounts for two-thirds of the overall water supply in Beijing.

A few questions remain unanswered when it comes to Beijing water resources. How much water is left in Beijing? To what extent is Beijing’s water in crisis? In recent years, over-extraction of groundwater has caused a series of environmental problems, including ground subsidence. How long will the current over-extraction go unaddressed?

There still exists the lavish use of water resources everywhere in Beijing. Experts compare Beijing to Israel in terms of water shortages. However, flood irrigation of green space can be seen everywhere in the city. Newly-licensed vehicles are being packed onto the over-crowded roads of Beijing everyday. Has anyone ever bothered to take an account on how much water will be consumed washing these vehicles? With few water-saving technologies, farming accounts for half of Beijing’s overall water consumption.

And the problem of water pollution is coming to the fore. Other pollutants aside, Beijing generates 15,000 tonnes of solid waste each day. The disorderly disposal of rubbish is posing a threat to groundwater. The water transferred from the south causes underground water levels to rise, which affects some buildings via increased water pressure, as well as making numerous rubbish dumping grounds pollution spots.

The list of problems can go on and on. But the biggest problem is that the truth is being hidden from us. If only the whole picture were fully revealed before the public, everyone would pool in his own effort to help overcome the crisis. The authorities need to summon enough courage to tell us the truth.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

2号评论很不错,看来是个专家

大而言之,有谁知道中国还有多少水?还有多少能用的水?

Comment 2 by an expert

Comment 2 is great. Does anybody know the amount of water available in China?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

这些办法真会奏效吗?

我相信原文在理论上提出了很好的方案,但在实际中很难执行这些保护和处理饮用水的措施。如果能够运用市场机制把下游的水资源消费和上游的水源保护结合起来,将会是个不错的做法,但市场不能解决这个问题所涉及的所有外部因素。要使上游的农民遵守为下游居民提供清洁饮用水所需的相关政策和法规几乎是不可能的。作者提出的方案很好,只是我不认为可行。第二条评论也很好,但我不认为新增轿车的洗车用水有什么可忧虑的,我觉得有点言过其实了。 —kyle

Can these ideas really work?

I believe that the original article sounds good in theory, but in the real world it is going to be much harder to implement these ideas on how to conserve and treat the available drinking water. It would be a great idea to link water consumption downstream with water protection upstream using market mechanisms, but the market does not account for all the externalities that are involved in this issue. It would be nearly impossible to get the farmers upstream to comply with the policies and regulations that are needed to clean up the water for downstream users. It is a wonderful idea, I just dont think it will work. Comment number two also sounds good but I dont think we should be worried about wasting water from washing all the new cars that will be on the roads. That sounds a like a push to me.
~ kyle

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

淡化水源

国内南部地区的地下水位已下降一米多。甚至在北京,每年人均供应量只为300立方米(约66,000加仑)(Tina Butler, Monabay.com)。中国的人均水资源量是世界人均的最低水平。

更可悲的是,由于北京市民对用水的高需求量而导致数百万农村人一辈子没有可能得到安全的饮水供给。中国需要大量投资淡化海水。对目前受污染并且日益减少的清洁水源,淡化海水似乎是唯一的选择。– Chad

Desalinization

In the northern region of the country, the water table has dropped more than a meter. Even in Beijing, the water supply per capita is only 300 cubic meters (66,000 gallons) per year (Tina Butler, Monabay.com). China's water resources are nearly the lowest per capita in the world.

And yes, its very sad that the "high" water demand in Beijing causes millions of rural Chinese a life without safe drinking water. China needs to heavily invest into desalinization of sea water. With China's polluted and shrinking fresh water resources, they are left only the option of looking to the sea.

- Chad

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

联想:当务之急,控制城镇规模!

由北京缺水应该意识到,中国的特大型城市已经足够了!但现在各级地方政府千方百计要扩大自己城市的规模(可以从各地的五年、十年中长期计划中看到),尤其是一些中小城市。这当然会带来人气,进而带来经济的繁荣,但随之而来的是严重的环境破坏!功不抵过啊!个人意见,中国的城市化应当有条不紊、不急不躁地认真建设好中小城镇,逐步规划建设好甚至乡镇、村落。大中城市适当的人口自然增长是可以的,但只要严格控制城市的土地,天价的房产就会停止城市人口的急速增长。而乡镇、乡村的低廉房价,如果逐步完善基础设施,就会让人们安居乐业,甚至吸引城市人口迁出。这才是中国城市化的正道。在英国留学时,我最爱的不是伦敦、伯明翰,而是田园风光甲天下的英国乡村风光,宛若仙境。

Controlling the scales of towns and cities is an emergent task now.

Beijing’s water crisis sends a clear message to China’s unchecked urbanization process – enough is enough. Yet still governments at every level are sparing no effort in expanding their respective cities (as can be seen in their five or ten-year plans for development), especially those in small cities. No doubt city expansion can attract tourists and boost local economy, but it also wreaks destruction to local environment. Generally, the harms outweigh the benefits.

I believe China’s urbanization should prioritize the development of intermediate and small cities, townships and villages. As for larger cities, the growth of population can be allowed its natural course, but the occupation of farmland has to be strictly controlled, which will make housing prices soar, thus curbing the rapid growth of urban population due to immigration. On the other hand, the low housing prices in the countryside, along with improved infrastructure preferably, will make people settle down, even reverse the rural-to-urban flow of population. This is the right path China’s urbanization should follow. When I was studying in Britain, my most favorite place was not London or Birmingham, but its beautiful countryside.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

教育

就像Kyle在评论四中所说的,文章中的观点如果在一个完美的世界中听起来棒极了,但可惜的是我们生活在一个不完美的世界。在中国,饮用水方面的问题产生是由于人们急功近利想赚钱造成的。由于腐败也致使一些环保政策起不到任何作用。文章中说一亿五千万的资金只有八千万用来保护水资源。我想知道剩下的七千万去了哪里?我相信改善水问题,最好的办法就是所有人教育他们身边的每一个人的有关这个问题的严重性。就像世界上的大多数事情,这是一个思想上的斗争。在这个问题上,我谨希望通过合适的教育方式,人们不再采用一些不合理的手段,这将最终威胁到中国水资源供应。

Educate

As Kyle stated in comment 4, the ideas presented in article sounds great in a perfect world but unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world. The problems that have been occurring throughout China in regards to its drinking water have occurred due to people cutting corners in order to save or gain money. Corruption has also made any policies to protect the environment highly ineffective. The article states that only 80 million yuan was used to protect waters sources when 150 million yuan was funded; this makes me wonder where the rest of the 70 million yuan went. I believe the best thing anyone can do to improve the water problem would to educate everyone they know on the seriousness of the matter. Like most things in this world, it is a battle of minds. I can only hope that through proper education of the problem, people will be less likely to pursue a means to an end that can threaten China’s water supply.

-JJ

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

个人意见,愿与蒋先生争鸣

我对蒋高明先生文章的几点意见

蒋先生对北京上游赤城县一所小学所排污水的感慨,乃至后面引证和建议,我作为一个略懂环境保护的人来说,完全不能赞同他的观点。

蒋先生在植物学的贡献,我有耳闻非常敬佩,但对他仅仅通过几幅照片、北京市提供的几个片面数字,就发出科学家般的倡议,我看没有科学的态度,因为他的身份和号召力特殊,所以我也愿意从另一个角度说上几句。

熟悉北京周边环境的环境保护工作者都知道,北京和天津都被河北省围绕。其中,河北省张家口市位于上游,几十年来,河北省为了北京市的发展,怀着高度的政治责任感,做了大量的牺牲,张家口和另一个北京的上游城市承德市,目前在河北均属于经济总量和人均GDP排队靠后的设市城市。

我们掌握的情况是,张家口市仍然一如既往的保护官厅水库水源,官厅水库水质目前还比较好,水量减少、泥沙淤积根本的原因是大区域的生态问题,也是水利的问题,不是张家口市环境管理的问题.

至于粪便问题和面源污染问题,北京市境内一样严重!
就我所知道的,以及蒋先生文章提及的需要探讨的。官厅水库及其河北省境内的黑河段是不是北京市的饮用水源地,如果不是,就不允许蒋先生模棱两可的这么说。国家环保部目前正在推动全国饮用水源地的工作,如果是北京市的饮用水源地,至少我们还没有看到北京市主动和河北省友好沟通的消息出现。为了保证好北京的两盆水或三盆水,我们该鞭打的是谁?是河北省还是北京市?

“北京计划从2007年开始到2011年,投入1亿元资金,重点支持河北省张家口、承德完成20万亩水源保护林建设工程”。我不知道这句话,懂点环保的人和完全没有环保概念的人读来是否可笑,一亩地投资500元就能涵养水源,那样的话,我们国家每年增收的万亿财政收入,可以再造多少个北京上游啊!

不能忽视的情况是,比邻北京市的河北省张家口市的经济社会的发展差距和北京市越来越大,北京已经是国际化大都市,已经膨胀到6-7环,上千万人的城市,人均GDP全国领先,而到过张家口市的人也都知道,那里看上去还是比较落后,周围的县大都还是国家级的贫困县。贫富差距这么大,人民生活困苦,北京市如何实现上游生态和谐,北京市和张家口市如何实现和谐社会发展,这才是我们思考问题的高度。
我们看问题也是如此,一个小学,它能排多少污水,能贡献多少COD和氨氮,它能影响到北京市两盆水的多少程度,我们该具有普通的常识啊,绝对不可危言耸听。我不知道蒋老师写作本文,代表科学家的立场还是代表北京市的立场,代表科学家的立场我认为不够严肃,代表北京市的立场,则是转嫁解决问题的责任,甚至是逃避北京市的水源保护责任!

我倒愿意站在某些角度来谈谈解决问题的方案:
一是北京市一定要在中央的领导下,认真搞好城市总体规划,人口总量、人口密度,以及城市的大饼一定不能再继续急速扩张了,如此下去,上游多少盆水都不够使,南水北调三条线再加上北水南掉入京也不够使用啊。如果北京市作不好这样的工作,中央政府一定要考虑“迁都”,用外力把城市扩张的速度降下来。
二是北京市一定要放下姿态,认真和河北省研究饮用水源地的保护问题,河北省从来都是以高度的政治责任感来保护北京水源地的,北京市要主动联系作好这样的工作,多出点钱和力,要知道保护的北京市的水啊,自己一点都不主动,动不动就写这样的东东希望引起中央领导的注意。

三是文中提到了河北省和北京市难以协调的问题,我看这个问题极容易解决。不管水利部也好,环保部也好,都有义务作好这个跨省水源保护区的工作。我目前看不出,协调的难度有多大。两会期间,这样的建议提案有人鼓呼,而京津冀北为保护水源的贫穷问题、移民问题北京市和天津市几十年抬头不见,好像这几十万人人间蒸发了么?如果真是难以协调,我看中央出面,把张家口市划为北京市管辖也好啊,行政的问题一下子就解决了,这其中的另一个好处是,北京市冲天的GDP和雄厚的财政正好给予张家口市人民提高生活水平,使水源地得到很好的保护,一举多得啊,我们倡导的生态文明、倡导的和谐社会,这不是最好的行动么?

四是区域生态补偿的问题。我们国家提出已经很多年来,在京津冀北这一地区尤其紧要。生态补偿,不仅仅是给提高点向北京输水的价格,也不仅仅是让张家口市的贫困人民吃上饭,脱了贫。而是北京市政府和北京市人民要长期协调发展和可持续发展,按照我的粗略估计,必须拿出每年财政收入的10%,中央财政还要每年定向给一些,直接用于张家口市的生态建设、环境保护基础设施建设甚至直接用来提高这些地区的人民的物质生活,将贫富差距尽可能的别再扩大,那几盆水的保护也就迎刃而解了。这个长期的谋划,需要北京市政府和北京市人民做些物质牺牲,大型的工业项目也就不要再上了,如蚁的车辆也不要再增了,也不要再沾沾自喜的数自己人均GDP和人均财政收入排名了。如果仍然如此,古楼兰的今天就是北京市的明天,这在我们的有生之年也许就能看见。

虽然是小人物,我愿意和蒋先生争鸣和激辩。

Diffrent opinions from the author

I respect the author, however I do not think it is appropriate to offer “scientific suggestions” just on the basis of some pictures and figures as Mr Jiang does in the article.

All those who are familiar with environmental protection in and near Beijing know that the city of Zhang Jiakou, situated on the upper reaches of rivers feeding the reservoirs in Beijing, has made a big sacrifice for the development of Beijing. It is known that Zhang Jiakou has been always trying to protect the water resources of Guanting Reservoir. Currently, water quality in the reservoir is quite good.

Decreasing water and increasing sedimentation in the reservoir is a result of degrading ecosystem in the region, rather than the management and governance problems in Jiang Jiakou. The problems in excrement treatment and pollution resources in Beijing are as serious as those in Zhang Jiakou.

Hebei is regarded as a resource for drinking water in Beijing. However, there are no signs to show that Beijing will initiate the communication with Hebei for the sake of protection of water resources. Who should be responsible for the protection of reservoirs in Beijing, Hebei or Beijing?

After calculation, I found that the figures Mr. Jiang quoted are baseless. Is it possible to just spend 500 yuan (70 US dollars) for water retention on every mu of land? If so, Beijing should have funded many similar projects in neighboring areas.

Also we have to recognize that the gap in economic strength between Zhang Jiakou and Beijing is expanding. Many counties in Zhang Jiakou are still very poor. So what we need to consider and discuss is how to achieve sustainable and harmonious development in both Zhang Jiakou and Beijing without ignoring the fact of widening gap between the two.

What I would like to suggest are more funding from Beijing to ensure ecosystem improvement in Zhang Jiakou, no more giant industrial projects allowed in Zhang Jiakou, no more vehicles running on the road, and etc.

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匿名 | Anonymous

教育

喂,JJ,你说我们应该教育谁呢?老百姓,政府,还是外国?或者他们全部?教育应该把重点放在节约用水吗?在中国,老百姓没有多少权利,所以教育他们不会起到多少作用。我仍然认为问题的解决办法是海水淡化,这将成为中国政府和外国的一致追求。所有中国的水坝和调水工程花费数十亿并且需要很长的时间。但是这些水到不了数以百万的偏远地区。海水淡化的研究和发展应该在政策上得到更多的资金支持,因为中国没有足够的水。
结尾--乍得

re: educate

Hey JJ, Who are you saying we should educate: the people, the government, or foreign nations? Or do you mean all of these groups? Would the education focus on using less water? I dont think the people have much power in China, so i dont know how much progress will be made from educating them. I still think the problem needs to be solved with desalinization, which will be pursued by the Chinese government and foreign nations. All of Chinas dams and water diversion projects cost billions and take seriously long amounts of time. This water will not even reach millions of rural residents. Research and development in desalinization should receive higher funds in policy decisions because China does not have enough water. End of story.

- Chad

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匿名 | Anonymous

回复8号评论员

您的建议很好。首先声明我不代表北京市,也没有指责河北省的意思,我仅代表我个人观点。您的建议和我的思考有共同的地方,我的核心观点是通过生态的办法能够解决上游的面源污染,但是这个做法并没有实施,而是花的了很多钱做了偏离保护水源的事情。上游农民的生活问题需要考虑,上游缺少的是钞票,有机种植的产品下游市民急需,更需要清洁的水,这两个东西都是可以卖钱的。围绕水源保护,我们没有形成一个好的市场体制,可以尝试,即北京市或国家投入一定是试验示范费用,推进这个工作。根据我们在内蒙古和山东的经验,一些问题不是不能做,而是愿不愿意做的问题,是我们的治理是否考虑到了最直接的当事人--农牧民的问题。不发动群众通过市场的调节主动介入生态治理或水源保护,是很难行得通的。这个问题恰恰是被决策者忽视的。由于部门利益高于国家利益和社会利益,费用的浪费就不可避免。供参考。蒋高明

Reply to the author of comment No.8

You make a good point. First I would like to clarify that I didn’t speak for Beijing municipal government. And I didn’t mean to point a finger of blame at Hebei government in this article. I only voiced some personal views on this issue.

Your suggestions share some common ground with mine. The core of my viewpoint is to solve the non-point pollution in the upper reaches of the rivers through ecological means. But in reality, these measures are ignored and money is spent elsewhere rather than where it is needed. No doubt the livelihood of farmers upstream should be taken into account. While urban residents downstream desperately need both clean water and organic farming product, both of which can be sold at a price. Beijing or the central government should launch some pilot program to help establish a market mechanism concerning water resources protection. Our experiences in Inner Mongolia and Shandong province show this is a matter of willingness, rather than feasibility. Policy-makers simply don’t realize the fact that popular involvement through market mechanism is the key to the solution of ecological restoration and water resource protection. –Jiang gaoming