Beijing to set new water prices
To prevent water shortages in Beijing from worsening, municipal authorities have decided to set quotas on residents' water use and adopt a progressive water pricing system.
Under a progressive fee system, residents pay one price for water up until a certain amount is consumed. After that, the price goes up.
Chen Lintao, vice-director of the Beijing Municipal Water Conservation Office, said water price hikes may be the most effective alternative to encourage people to save water.
The policies for the city where 13 million people live, have been in the works for years.
Experts say the demand of water will drop by 20 per cent when the price is doubled.
Several big cities in China have moved towards progressive fees for water.
For instance, Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, charges 2.3 yuan (US$0.28 ) for every cubic metre of water if a household's monthly water consumption is under eight tons. But the price soars to 10 yuan (US$1.2) per ton after that.
However, Chen said the implementation of progressive pricing in Beijing would be more complex than that in Dalian, or other cities, due to the city's huge population and varied conditions of different social strata.
"Moreover, if progressive charges are based on households, the same basic amount of water would be quite tight for a six-member household compared with a two-member family," said Chen.
He said a recent survey conducted by his office and the Municipal Commission of Development and Reform showed that around 60 per cent of the respondents support the move towards progressive water pricing.
"We plan to open the draft of water price hike measures and solicit public opinions and suggestions," said Chen.
Wang Hao, head of the Water Resources Research Institute, said 40 per cent of the water used in Beijing goes to the personal needs of residents. People in the city use more water than industry.
"I think the implementation of progressive charges will produce noteworthy results to ease the city's water shortage," said Wang during an interview with the China Central Television (CCTV).
Wang said Beijing has been facing a severe water shortage. The situation has deteriorated after five consecutive years of drought since 1999.
However, not everybody in Beijing, including Zhen Zhen, a native of North China's Shanxi Province who just came to the city for work, have realized that Beijing is facing a dangerous lack of water.
Instead, Zhen Zhen even felt a little excited when she discovered she can get tap water at any time. In her hometown, water is usually supplied at fixed times.
"I had to use various containers, such as basins, pails, kettles and vats to store water during the late evenings. It's horrible." said Zhen.
But she did not know that her province had diverted 50 million cubic metres of water last year to thirsty Beijing.
"Beijing needs to build a water-saving society and promote the use of water-saving devices," said Zhang Shouquan, a senior water expert and also a deputy to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Beijing Committee.
"Saving water is a fundamental strategy for Beijing's sustainable development," said Zhang, who put forward 10 proposals on water saving to the annual session of the CPPCC Beijing Committee.
"Besides increasing water prices, the government should consider introducing some more compelling methods to enhance people's awareness of saving water," said Zhang, "For example, people can get some subsidies if they choose water-saving commodes."