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Beijing hikes water price to ease shortage

A majority of public representatives voted for a proposed water price hike of 24.3 percent at a public hearing in Beijing Wednesday, but they also agreed to phase in rises over the next three years.

Twenty-four representatives of residents, industrial users, lawmakers, political advisors, scholars, social groups, government officials and water companies attended the hearing.

Of the 25 votes, 22 were in favor of the government-proposed price hike, hoping it could help increase water-use efficiency as in the city, which faces frequent water shortages.

Two voted against, and one agreed to a price hike, but in a separate proposal.

A resident who was on the representative list asked for sick leave Wednesday, but she had submitted a written document to express her opinion.

Most of the 22 representatives who supported the rise said authorities should take into consideration the effect on residents and raise the price gradually over three years.

Only a representative from the municipal-government-owned Beijing Waterworks Group, the city's water supplier, favored a second plan proposed by the government for a one-off price hike.

The municipal government proposed the rise to discourage residents from wasting water and to ease shortages.

The price of water for residential use would rise from 3.7 yuan (54 U.S. cents) to 4.6 yuan (67 U.S. cents) per cubic meter, according to the proposed plan by the government.

The government would offer subsidies to low-income families to ensure their living standards were not affected, the plan said.

"I agree with the price hike, but the water companies should meanwhile further improve the water quality and service for consumers," said Ge Youshan, a representative from the Beijing Bar Association.

"Authorities should improve the supervision mechanism while raising the water price, keep strict control of the operating costs of the water companies, and guard against extravagance and waste," said representative Guan Ping from Peking University , who is also a political advisor.


Li Shijie, a representative from a monthly periodical, China's Ethnic Groups, and also a political advisor, was one of the only two who spoke against the price hike.

"As a journalist, I have visited many needy and wealthy families and interviewed university professors on economic studies before the public hearing, and most of them disapproved of the price hike," he said.

"Economic leverage is not the sole solution to wasting water. The authorities should take into consideration of those residents who have long been aware of saving water in daily life," he said.

Zhu Yufeng, a resident representative from the Haidian District, also rejected the plan.

"Air pollution and environment pollution have lead to the decrease in water resources. That is an international issue. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy water if a worldwide water crisis takes place," she said.

"On the other hand, industrial users and migrant populations have also driven up water consumption, so it is not proper for local residents alone to pay," she said.

During the hearing, many representatives also proposed the government gradually adopt a "tier pricing system", in which the unit price increased with each higher level of consumption.

"I think that is a reasonable system. It can protect the interests of low-income families and water-saving residents, and charge wasters more," said Shen Lenian, a representative from Tsinghua University and a strong supporter of the "tier pricing system."

He also put forward a specific plan based on the "tier pricing system."

The public hearing was held by the Beijing Municipal Development and Reform Commission and was broadcast live on the commission's website, www.bjpc.gov.cn. The hearing lasted about three hours.

Beijing , a city of 17 million, has been plagued by droughts for nine consecutive years in the past decade.

Government data shows per capita water availability is only 300 cubic meters, far below the internationally recognized warning level of 1,000 cubic meters.

Over the past five years, Beijing has invested more than 4 billion yuan in water conservation and water supply projects.

Last month, the city raised the price of water for non-residential use by up to 48.6 percent.

Other Chinese cities are also planning or have agreed to raise water prices, including Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Chongqing.