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Capital, Hebei in row over river water use
(China Daily by Li Jing)
Updated: 2004-02-26 00:52

Water disputes between Beijing and neighbouring Hebei Province are becoming more difficult to resolve as successive years of drought exacerbate water shortages in the North China Plain.

Experts have called for a regular mechanism of democratic consultation to ensure scarce water is fairly distributed across regions and disputes are solved through compromise.

The latest quarrel broke last year over the use of water on the Juma River, which begins and ends in Hebei Province but runs through Beijing.

The problems started last September when Beijing unveiled plans to increase the height of the dam on the Shengtian Diversion Channel which connects with the Juma River to retain more surface water. The capital city also planned to dig 40 wells along the river to hold ground water.

Hebei water authorities claimed that the two projects would intercept both surface and underground water, possibly drying up the lower reaches of the river in Hebei, the Beijing News reported Wednesday.

Lang Honggang, a researcher with the Hebei Water Resources Survey Bureau estimated that the water diversion projects would negatively impact more than 3 million residents in nine counties.

The Beijing News quoted Lang as saying that if the diversion plan goes ahead, at least 75 per cent of the river, at the lower reaches, would run dry. The result, he said, would be faster desertification of nearby farm land.

Despite bitter quarrels that erupted when Hebei provincial officials learned of the capital's plans, Liu Hong, an official with the Water Resources Committee of the Haihe River, a mediator in the water dispute, said some agreements have been reached.

According to the Beijing Water Resources Bureau, the two projects along the Juma River have been suspended.

Meanwhile, Hebei is expected to help ensure Beijing's water supply.

Money, however, is still an issue. Both parties have to narrow their differences on the payment of water consumption.

Zhang Shouquan, a senior water expert with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily that the dispute for the Juma River's water is just one of the conflicts that have risen among neighbours in river valleys across the country.

"A democratic consultation mechanism is urgently needed to provide a platform for related parties," said Zhang.

He said conflicts on water distribution will likely become more severe in the next 20 years, especially in the northern areas of China.

"Beijing and Hebei, as well as Tianjin, belong to the Haihe River valley. Beijing's water resources have close relations with the upper and lower reaches," said Zhang.

Besides the Juma River, Beijing's two major reservoirs -- the Miyun and Guanting reservoirs -- are directly affected by the conditions of the upper reaches of the relevant rivers in Hebei Province.

Due to the severe pollution at the upper reaches in Hebei, the water of the Guanting Reservoir was contaminated in the 1990s and cannot be used as drinking water.

Meanwhile, the Chaobai River where the Miyun Reservoir is located is also at risk.

Luanping, Fengning and Chicheng counties along the upper reaches of the Chaobai River are too poor to invest in large pollution control plans.

Zhang said the central government should draw up regulations on water distribution and preservation among different administrative regions to give a legal support to the sustainable development within a river valley.

The Water Resources Committee of Haihe River, a mediation organ affiliated with the Ministry of Water Resources, is in charge of the co-ordination of water management in the Haihe River valley.

However, experts argued that the committee does not have the authority to play an effective role as the number of water disputes in the North China Plain grows.

Wu Jisong, a department head of the Ministry of Water Resources said the government may strengthen the committees' position and its ability to co-ordinate neighbouring regions.

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