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Beijing, Tianjin locked in water dispute
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-27 02:07

Thirsty Beijing is facing a head-on conflict with the neighbouring municipality of Tianjin over water distribution, the China Youth Daily reports.

The conflict was triggered by a reservoir project that draws water from the upper reaches of the Juhe River which runs through both cities.

Experts say successive years of drought have exacerbated water shortages in the North China Plain and fuelled the conflict.

The reservoir, completed late last year, is located on the Jixian County of Tianjin, along the upper reaches of the river.

Wang An, deputy head of the water bureau of the county, said the project was crucial to easing the severe shortage of drinking water for both local residents and livestock.

However, the Pinggu District of Beijing, at the lower end of the river, said the project will cut off the life line for the Haizi Reservoir, the third largest in Beijing after Miyun and Guanting.

The Haizi Reservoir, also named Jinhai Lake, is a famous aquatic entertainment place in Beijing, and also the pillar of the district's tourism industry.

According to a long-term blueprint, the district, which lags behind the others in the municipality economically, will build a large bio-economic development zone centred on the lake.

But everything would be in vain if the lake's water source is threatened, said an official surnamed Zhang with the tourism bureau of the district.

However, Wang An argued that the newly-built reservoir would provide drinking water for nearly 100,000 residents of his county, and it was more important than meeting tourism needs.

Jixian County has suffered successive drought for nearly eight years.

A villager from the county's Luozhuang Township said he could draw water after digging only five to six metres eight years ago. But last year, he had to sink a 40-metre-deep well to get water.

The picture is almost the same in the Haizi Reservoir whose water level plummeted to the lowest point last year.

The reservoir held about 57 million cubic metres of water by the end of 2001, half of that in 1995. But now, the figure has dropped to only 13 million cubic metres.

The water conflict is still unsolved since neither of the two cities is willing to back down or compromise, said the newspaper.

The Juhe River dispute is just one several water conflicts that have risen among neighbours in river valleys across the country.

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

Shen Guofang, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the value of water should be set through a market mechanism in order to solve the crisis in many cities.

About two-thirds of the country's 600-plus cities have water shortages.

Shen said the recent water price hikes in Beijing and many other cities are aimed at representing the value of scarce water resources, "but the key is to clarify the ownership of water."

Xu Qianqing, former vice-chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources, said setting up a water ownership regime could regulate the order of water use in neighbouring regions and encourage people to save water.

Xu said such a property regime should balance the rights and interests both of the upper and lower reaches of the river.

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