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Jump in water prices stayed
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-02 01:35

The eyebrow-raising proposal to raise Beijing's water prices by 30 per cent that were to go into effect Thursday still have not gotten the nod from the municipal government, according to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform.

Wang Jingshan, a press officer with the commission, said the implementation of the price hikes will probably be postponed for a couple of months, but declined to state the reason.

The proposals, put forward by the Beijing Water Bureau, the Beijing Water Group Co Ltd and the Beijing Drainage Group Co Ltd, were made public on June 3 when the commission held a public hearing.

According to the proposed plan, water prices for residents would be raised from 2.9 yuan (35 US cents) per ton to 3.7 yuan (45 US cents) per ton starting July 1.

Meanwhile, water-guzzling businesses were to face dramatic price hikes,ranging from three to 15 times what they had previously paid.

For instance, commercial businesses such as spas, saunas and massage centers are expected to pay as much as 100 yuan (US$12) per ton instead of the existing 10 yuan (US$1.2) per ton.

The proposals also introduced a system that had variations in fees charged based on residents' water consumption habits.

Under the new system, people who use water within a certain quota can pay at the basic price, and those who consume more water than average would pay more -- probably up to five times more for the extra water.

The price hikes stirred heated debate among residents.

Some people argued that the 30 per cent fee increases impose too heavy a burden to low-income groups, to whom paying around 40 yuan (US$4.8) per month on water is a large expenditure.

They said 40 yuan-worth of water can only meet the smallest water consumption for a three-member family.

Other people questioned whether price hikes will really encourage people to save water.

The thirsty city has already raised water rates eight times since 1991 when the water price per ton was merely 0.12 yuan (less than 2 US cents).

However, officials with the development and reform commission estimate the price hike this time, especially adopting the variable charging system, should reduce residents' water consumption by around 6 per cent.

Although people express varied concerns on the efficiency and justification of the price hikes, the debate itself has attracted more people to pay attention to the city's severe water crisis.

Beijing has been caught by drought for six years in a row since 1998.

The lack of rain has seen the water level of many rivers, lakes and reservoirs down to their lowest points in history.

Liu Zhiqi, secretary-general of the Beijing Water Association, said the water level of Miyun Reservoir, Beijing's lifeline, is dangerously low.

"The two rivers entering the reservoir injected just 18 per cent of the water this year that they have in years of abundance, and the water level of the reservoir is 20 metres lower because of successive drought years," said Liu.

Wang Jingshan said the ninth price hike, as stated in the proposals, would surely be carried out within this year.

He added that the city's general water price would continue to climb up to 6 yuan (73 US cents) per ton in a couple of years, which is proposed in a long-term plan on the capital city's sustainable water usage.

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