Beijing steps up its commitment to 100% water reuse by 2013

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Beijing’s water authorities have announced a $5 billion investment package as part of a drive towards full water reuse. GWI’s Kathy Liu investigates.

Beijing already recycles 60% of its wastewater, and leads China in terms of conservation through reuse. Keen to retain this honour, the city’s water authorities have announced a three-point plan that includes RMB35 billion ($5.13 billion) of investment in water and wastewater infrastructure between 2009 and 2013; increasing charges for recycled water (these are unchanged since being fixed at $0.15/m3 in 2003); and the publication of the draft of Beijing Drainage and Water Reuse Regulations – listed as one of Beijing’s judicial priorities for 2009.

The infrastructure funding will be directed towards three main areas. Firstly, achieving the ambitious goal of total recovery of all water passing through the city’s principal wastewater treatment plants, of which there are eight (see table below).

Secondly, ensuring that each of the 11 outlying suburbs of greater Beijing has a water recycling plant by the end of 2009. Thirdly, several wastewater treatment plants (including four sludge treatment works) will be built in the suburbs, in addition to an as yet unspecified number of new drinking water plants as part of the South-to-North water diversion project.

The $5.13 billion will be raised over the next four years, and sourced annually from municipal governments (approximately $586 million per year), plus around $440 million per year from district and county governments and the private sector. If all goes to plan, over 900 million m3 of reclaimed water could be added to Beijing’s water supplies every year for four years. This water will largely be used to replenish watercourses, and will be paid for with municipal finance, but other types of usage will increase too (see table above for the current breakdown).

The release of the Beijing Drainage and Water Reuse Regulations replaces the 1986 Temporary Regulation of Beijing Municipal Drainage Facilities Administration, and covers regulations related to water quality supervision, tariff collection and municipal subsidies, the usage of reclaimed water, concession structures of water reuse projects, and new technologies. While the new regulations are still vague on some areas, they are a marked improvement on the old rules which were too outdated to consider water reuse. Formalising the regulations will make the administration of Beijing’s wastewater more efficient, and will encourage the increased use of recycled water.

The increase in recycled water will build on the momentum built up in terms of water reuse for the Olympic Games, and will go some way to relieving Beijing’s water scarcity – a welcome development in light of the delays to the South-North water diversion project, which is only expected to deliver water from the Yangtze in 2014.