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New water pricing rules in pipeline
( 2003-12-10 23:34) (china daily)

A new set of water pricing regulations will be put into force on January 1, in an effort to ease the worsening water shortage, cut down on waste of the precious commodity and promote conservative use of water throughout the country, an official announced Wednesday.

Addressing a national conference on water conservancy, Zhai Haohui, vice-minister of water resources, said that under China's current market economy, revising water pricing policies will help encourage water conservancy and ensure the preservation of a sustainable economy. "Promulgation of the pricing rules will push forward China's reform on water pricing and help the country manage existing water resources according to the law," the vice-minister said.

He made it clear that, governments above the provincial level will be responsible for the basic prices of water from the key State-run water works, such as major reservoirs, and the collection of water use fees.

Part of the money charged for supplying water will be earmarked for maintaining and renovating large and medium-sized water supply facilities built with the State funds, to avoid premature deterioration.

Setting higher water rates for water supply facilities run by non-government enterprises can attract more investment in the field.

The prices of water of supply works will be allowed to fluctuate during high water periods and dry seasons.

But water suppliers will have to compensate users if their facilities fail to ensure adequate supply.

Under a well-designed water pricing mechanism, with controlled consumption and improve efficiency of use, users can be asked to pay higher prices when they go beyond their quotas, according to the regulations.

The new rule also introduces a price hearing system to prevent random adjustment and ensure users' legal rights, experts with the ministry said.

To lighten farmer's financial burden resulting from random or extra water charges by authorities at grass-roots levels, prices of water used for agriculture will be exempted from taxes.

Some village officials and local water supply agencies at grass-roots levels were found to have been over-charging farmers. Farmers should have a say in water pricing at local levels, they said, declining to be named.

Over and above official water-use charges, extra water fees, charged without justification in some localities, must be stopped, the experts stressed.

Zhai was confidant that the guiding principles of the new pricing regulation will guarantee fair play in the water supply sector and encourage people to save water resources. "Instead of simply building projects to increase water supply, China, one of the countries plagued by a serious water shortage, must encourage users to save water through the introduction of market mechanisms or price leverage,'' the vice-minister said.

Building a water-efficient society is more significant than constructing massive water diversion works or water conservancy projects, such as the south-north water diversion project and the Three Gorges Dam project, he said.

"This is also one of the best solutions for China's water supply problems, including frequently-occurring floods and droughts, serious pollution, wastage of water and lower recycling rates in water utilization,'' he added.

China's available water per capita is only 2,200 cubic metres, less than one-third of the global average -- and the figure drops to one-tenth of this figure in drought-plagued northern China, according to a World Bank report quoted by experts attending the conference.

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