Despite the lack of rain for almost 100 days, officials say the capital's domestic water use has not been affected.
Zheng Qiuli, a press officer with the Beijing Water Authority, denied reports that the government had imposed a limit on water supplies to suburban areas.
"We have never relied on precipitation in winter to meet domestic water use because it is always the dry season in Beijing," said Zheng.
She said the water reserved for domestic use mainly comes from the summer flood season and that even if it snowed, a snowfall of 10 millimeters is the equivalent of only 1 mm of rainfall in terms of water volume.
"Since 1999, Beijing has seen 12 consecutive relatively dry years, which has resulted in a precipitation gap of 18 billion cubic meters in total," said Wang Jian, an expert with the Beijing-based environmental protection organization, Da'erwen.
According to statistics released by the Beijing Water Authority on Friday, the total water consumption in 2010 was 3.57 billion cubic meters, 20 million more than the previous year.
Wang said the declining volume of underground water and the diminishing reservoirs show the extent to which the city is over-exploiting its water resources.
The Beijing Water Authority released the latest water records for large- and medium-sized reservoirs in the city on Monday.
The water volume of Huairou Reservoir and Haizi Reservoir in Pinggu district had fallen by about 10 million cubic meters compared with the same period last year.
Wang said Pinggu district used to have abundant water resources but since 2003, when the whole city began using the district's underground water, the level dropped by about 20 meters.
The average underground water level is 24 meters, which is much lower than it was in the 1960s, he added.
"At that time, it was not hard to find water in the city center simply by digging down for about 5 meters. You may have to dig for another 10 meters or more now," Wang told METRO.
He said the city has used more than 10 billion cubic meters of underground water in the past 50 years.
To address the growing water shortage, Zheng said Beijing needs to conserve its resources rather than rely on water from other provinces.
"With the massive use of reclaimed water, and the 1,300 projects to collect and use rainwater, the capital saves 100 million cu m of water every year," said Zheng.
During the eight years since the city started to promote the use of reclaimed water, 3.36 billion cu m water has been saved, which equals the volume of 1,680 Kunming Lakes, she said.
Wang Yi, an official with the Beijing municipal office of flood control and drought relief headquarters, said about 2,000 people in the city's mountainous areas are currently suffering from a lack of water, Beijing Times reported on Monday.
The weather forecast shows no precipitation is expected in the capital but the mercury begun to rise on Monday, with temperatures likely to be above 6 C throughout the Spring Festival.
(China Daily 02/01/2011)