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Water Security in China’s Modernization Process
  2015-11-06 09:42  

Address by H.E. Mr. Jiao Yong,

Vice-minister of Water Resources of China

At China-Australia High-level Water Policy Workshop


Water Security in China’s Modernization Process



As declared to the world by the new Chinese leadership, China will reach her grand goal that a moderately prosperous society in all respects will be established by 2020. To achieve this goal, China will interactively approach to industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization. In this movement, rapid economic development and concentration of population to urban areas will create new challenges to the Chinese water sectors in terms of water supply security, flood mitigation and environment protection. Today, I will focus on security of domestic water supply in China’s process of urbanization and industrialization. For the issues of water supply security related to grain production and ecology, my colleague will give you a detailed introduction.


I.    Fundamental Features of Water Resources in China


In recent years, the Ministry of Water Resources of China has conducted two basic tasks called the first national water census and the 2nd national survey and assessment of water resources. Some fundamental features of water resources and rivers have been highlighted in the circumstance of social-economic development and demographic situation in China.


First, a large population but limited water resources: China has relatively adequate water resources in terms of total volume, with average annual water resources standing at 2,840 billion m3, ranking the sixth in the world. However if the factor of population is considered, water resources in China is very limited in terms of per capita, which only records 2,100 m3, less than 1/3 of the world average. During the national assessment of water resources, we define a concept of exploitable water resources which means total water can possibly be used in maximum in future and throughout the country. This amount of water resources is only 814 billion m3 in total and 607 m3 in per capita, and the latter is merely at the level of the average water consumption per capita in the world.


Second, uneven distribution of water resources: Considering the typical climate and geographic situations, China demonstrates an uneven distribution of water resources throughout the country. More than 80% of water resources are concentrated in the South, but only less than 20% in the North.


Due to monsoon impacts, precipitation is concentrated in summer and autumn, most of which flows into the sea in the form of floods, hard to control and utilize.


The distribution of available water resources is also very uneven.


The economic aggregate in China, however, is distributed in such a way that balances the economic development between the south and the north. As a result, much pressure of economic development applies on very limited water resources in Northern China that causes severe water stress. Even in some areas of Southern China, the scale of economy and population has exceeded the bearing capacity of local water resources. Examples can be illustrated such as central Yunnan Province, north Hubei Province and central Guizhou Province, where extra water has to be transferred from other river basins for satisfying local water consumption.


Third, small and medium-sized rivers constitute the majority of water sources supporting urban water supply. China has about 45,000 rivers with a basin area of more than 50km2 each, 95% of which have a basin area less than 1,000 km2. In addition, China has near 1,600 fresh-water lakes with an area of more than 1 km2 each, 80% of which have a water surface area less than 10 km2. This is fundamental geometric characteristic of rivers and lakes in China in respect to the issue of water supply. If we consider the feature of uneven distribution of precipitation through a year, run-offs of rivers during the winter time only account for 10% of their annual run-offs in South China, not for the entire area but for those where precipitation is abundant. In the Northern China, run-offs of rivers during winter time only take up less than 3% of their annual run-offs. In the situation that a large number of cities and towns rely on these rivers for water supply, there will be a huge challenge for safeguarding urban water supply considering the geometric and hydrological characteristics of the rivers and lakes in China.


All these features not only reflect the vulnerability of water resources and rivers in China in face with rapid social-economic development, but also highlight the enormous challenge of water supply security confronting industrialization and urbanization in China.


II.   China’s Spatial Land Development Layout and Urbanization Strategy

In the era of rapid industrialization and urbanization in which land function and use are dramatically changed, it is of paramount importance to develop a comprehensive spatial land development strategy for the nation. For this target, the Chinese government has completed the master plan of major functional zones nationwide over the recent years. In this master plan, the national land space is classified into four major functional zones according to their environmental carrying capacity, present development intensity and future development potentials, namely, zones for optimize development, zones of key development, zones restricted for development and zones forbidden from development.


Optimizing zones refer to areas that have already been well developed, and to achieve further development, these zones must optimize their all kinds of resources to avoid serious conflicts between population, resources and the environment. Key development zones refer to areas that still enjoy considerable spaces in terms of population, resources and environment, and can be allowed to further develop in large-scale. Zones restricted for development and zones forbidden from development refer to areas where either the land are reserved for agriculture or defined as natural protection zones.


The government has indicated 3 zones for optimize development and 18 key development zones from areas suitable for large-scale economic development. These will be the key areas for industrialization and urbanization in China.


Twenty-one city clusters have been planned by the government as the optimizing zones and the key development zones, becoming the core areas of urbanization in China. The most famous among the 21 city clusters are the city cluster around Beijing-Tianjin, the Changjiang Delta, the Pearl River Delta, the Wuhan-Rim city cluster, and the Chengdu-Chongqing city cluster, etc.


Because China must have room large enough for settlement of people who will move from rural to urban areas in next 10 years, China will also push forward the construction of small and medium-sized cities and towns apart from city cluster development. A large scale of townships will rapidly merge by attracting more population and resources from near rural areas during county economic development. The county-level cities will be the other priority of implementation of China’s urbanization strategy.


III.  Challenges of Water Supply Security in the Process of Urbanization

With the largest urbanization throughout human civilization that is happening in China, we will inevitably face a series of challenges in respect to the issue of water supply security.

First, extensive growth of urban population puts forward severe challenges to water supply security. At present, China has 620 million permanent urban residents, including 320million living in 655 municipalities, and the rest 300million living in 1,500 county-level cities and about 30,000 towns. Of the existing 655 municipalities, some are of huge scale. For instance, according to city statistics of the year 2010, there are more than 30 mega cities with at least two million residents each, among these 6 cities have population over 10 million each.


Statistics indicates that under the current circumstances, about 2/3 of all cities are short in water resources to different extents. There is an argument that cities suffering water scarcity such as those located in Northern China seem not jeopardize their economic development. However water shortage has affected eco-systems of the cities, and further more, life quality of residents.


When the Chinese population reaches its peak of 1.46 billion by year 2030, the Chinese urban population will total approximately one billion. Cities classified as optimizing zones will place their population growth under strict control, while those in key development zones will see further population growth. County economic development will accelerate enlargement of small and medium cities. Some of the county-level cities in small scale (with populations less than 200,000) will turn into medium cities (with populations between 200,000 and 500,000) and medium cities become large cities (with population more than 500,000). Some of the cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chongqing are located along mainstream of large rivers like Changjiang where water are adequate, while many others located in water-scarce areas such as Beijing, Tianjin, and Xi’an, etc.. Compared with water supply for agriculture, water supply for urban requires higher assurance rate and higher quality. Newly merged large cities will faces rigid growth in water demand for both population and economy growth. Huge urban population and extreme large scale of urban economy will no doubt bring along severe challenges to water supply security.


Second, unfavorable natural conditions of water resources apply extra pressure on water security. If we overlap the map of Chinese municipalities and county level cities with the map of Chinese rivers, we will find that many municipalities and county-level cities mainly depend on small and medium rivers for water supply.


There is a precondition that steady water supply is required for cities throughout a year no matter what climate conditions there is. If a river is used as a main source for domestic water supply, the river water should be not only plentiful in normal seasons, but also capable to provide sufficient water sources in a drought. As urban water sources, many of small and medium rivers in China, however, face enormous pressure of water supply due to heavy fluctuation of runoffs within a year or over years.


When the scale of a city is small enough, this kind of rivers may function well for water supply, but they cannot function well if the city experiences a rapid urban population growth. However, the problem is that many cities in China will enlarge the size of city in terms of population and economy, which are beyond the bearing capacity of the rivers the cities depend on.


We admire the steady and plentiful runoffs of European rivers such as the Thames in the UK and the Seine in France, as they can meet water demands of international metropolitans such as London and Paris without the need to construct large water storage works. In China, however, rivers of the same scale usually cannot depend on their natural run-offs to meet water demands of large cities. For example, the Xiangjiang River in Hunan Province and the Ganjiang River in Jiangxi Province which have similar river size with Seine, can hardly meet water demands of large cities such as Changsha and Nanchang during dry periods. Large reservoirs therefore have to be built for storage of river run-offs to ensure security of urban water supply. Over the recent 20 years, global climate change has worsened the existing uneven distribution of water resources in China and intensified the tightness of water supply in Chinese cities.


Third, water consumption remains in an extensive pattern, which artificially builds up urban demand for water supply. In general, industrial and urban water use in China is relatively in an extensive pattern, causing water waste. At the middle stage of industrialization, China’s economic structure has a high proportion of heavy industry, of which many belong to the high-water-consumption type. In 2011, average water consumption per RMB10,000 industrial value added was 78 m3, 3-4 times as the industrial water consumption in developed countries.


Daily water consumption per capita in urban areas was 200 liters, much higher than that in many developed European countries. When I visited Germany, I was told that daily water consumption per capita in German cities was about 130 liters because of the widespread application of water-saving devices among city dwellers. In many cities in China, residents do not have strong water-saving awareness and hence water-saving device application is not popular. In addition, the leakage ratio of water pipelines and networks also remains high. Thus, the relatively extensive water use modes in industries and urban households have increased the urban water demand and led to difficulties in water-supply.


Fourth, many rivers in city sections are heavy polluted that consequently causes a significant risk in urban water supply. One of the prices China has paid for her rapid economic growth is the severe pollution of river water bodies. According to the National Integrated Plan for Water Resources, limitation of COD and NH3-N discharged into rivers are set up as the bottom line for the nation in order to prevent rivers from pollution. However, the two major pollutants have already crossed over the bottom line


and most rivers are contaminated especially along middle and lower reaches of the rivers where major cities are located. An example can be used to demonstrate this situation. Suzhou and Wuxi are famous southern cities as they locate beside the beautiful Taihu Lake where local water resources are very rich. However, it is the two cities with abundant local water that once suffered water crisis due to heavy pollution in Taihu Lake. In order to maintain water security the two cities have to open the second water source by water diversion from the Changjiang River. Severe water pollution further worsens urban water supply situation and seriously threatens water security.


IV.             Major Measures China Will Adopt to Guarantee Water supply Security in Her Urbanization Process

There is no single way that can solve the water issue facing by Chinese cities.To address the issue of water supply security in the process of urbanization, we must take comprehensive measures that include transforming the economic growth patterns, water demand management, modernizing water works to improve water supply capacity, and changing water consumption into a more scientific pattern, etc.


First, optimize urban economic structure to match with local water resources conditions. Take the Hai River Basin as an example. Due to the impact of global climate change and transformation of land uses, the total water volume of the Hai River Basin has declined by 25% since the 1980s. Even with the water diverted through the South-to-North Water Transfer Project, water resources in Hai River Basin cannot satisfy economic development in the Basin if the economy remains an extensive water consumption manner.


Therefore, Chinese government defined major part of Hai River Basin as the optimizing zone and water demand management is strictly applied to match the water condition. Major cities such as Beijing and Tianjin are required to develop cities at reasonable scale, transform economic structures to best match their water condition, expand modern service sector and high/new-tech industries that can maximum save water, and forbid the development of the new high-water-consumption sectors. Through restructuring economy and water demand management we can efficiently reduce water-supply burdens and hence guarantee domestic water supply for urbanization.


Second, save water to ensure sustainable use of water resources. To safeguard urban water supply security in the process of urbanization, China must follow the path of water conservation and construct the water-saving society in an all-round manner. China has started the practice of total water use control strategy. The National Integrated Plan for Water Resources approved by the State Council sets the national cap for total water use by 2030 that is 700 billion m3. At present, the Ministry of Water Resources has accordingly allocated the national cap into provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in order to let provincial governments to kwon their provincial caps that are not allowed to excess. Provincial governments can then further divide the provincial cap into the local water use caps with stringent control, allowing no excess over the local caps. Such quantitative control of water use enables the cities to plan their urban development, adjust their economic structure, set their water-saving policies and ensure sustainable urban development in line with their respective water use cap.


Another useful tool to save water is water tariff reform. We modify urban water tariff to cover not only the construction cost of water works but also the resource and environment costs of water. To promote water conservation, the progressive pricing mechanism will be applied to all industrial sectors and the cascade water tariff system will be practiced for urban residents. In particular, we need to promote water-saving awareness among the public in order to get support from the public. When water tariff reform takes place we should be able to provide water-saving devices to residents in order to make water tariff affordable. Therefore the government will encourage the development of water-saving industries with technological innovation to boost use of urban water-saving devices. The leverage role of water tariff will also stimulate residents to make widely use of water-saving devices and businesses to extensively adopt water-saving technologies, thereby reducing water supply pressure on cities.


Third, construct more water works to further increase water-supply assurance rate for cities. In China, in order to prevent negative impacts of severe draughts on urban life, the government has clarified a minimum urban water supply assurance rate of 97%. Given the geometric and hydrological features of Chinese rivers and spatial distribution of cities, it is necessary for China to enhance the construction of more water works to ensure the urban water supply security. These water works include new reservoirs on rivers, inter-basin and inter-regional water diversion projects, and reinforcement projects of hazardous reservoirs to improve their storage capacity.


The most popular case of water works conducted in China is the South-to-North Water Transfer Project by which about 13 billion m3 water is diverted to the north through the Eastern and Central Routes.


Although internationally controversial, inter-basin water transfer is an inevitable choice to China in order to mitigate social, economic and environmental damages caused by absolute water scarcity in some regions. This is the result of our basic national situations.


Fourth, reform the urban water management mechanism to improve water use efficiency. China is implementing the urban water system reform to establish an integrated urban water management system and to give up the traditional fragment water management. In the new mechanism the whole process of water services is integrated, from water source, water supply, water drainage to wastewater treatment and recycling. By now, 76% of cities in China have adopted the new mechanism that helps optimize the allocation of various water sources, develop recycling of water and upgrade water use efficiency.


Take Beijing as an example. Before the reform, reused wastewater was only about 80 million m3 per year because water supply and wastewater treatment belonged to different government agencies. After adoption of the new mechanism, the newly reformed city water authority has significantly enhanced treated wastewater reuse to solve the water shortage issue. As a result, the use of recycled water has gone up to 800 million m3 per year at present, which not only helps conserve freshwater but also improves water use efficiency.


Fifth, enhance protection of urban water resources and improve urban water environment to guarantee quality of drinking water. Security of water supply in the process of urbanization is reflected not only in water quantity but also in water quality. At present, more than 400 million urban residents depend on city water supply network for their drinking water. However, 14% of this population is exposed to the water sources that are under risk of pollution. With the further expansion of city scales and more intensive economic activities, how to ensure the access of increasing urban residents to safe drinking water will become a significant challenge.


To meet this challenge, we need enhance the urban and industrial wastewater treatment in the first place. Many cities and industrial areas in China are located along rivers, sinking into an upper and lower stream relation. Even in plain areas, cities share same aquifers and hence there is a kind of inter-relationship among aquifers. Compliance failure of urban and industrial wastewater treatment at the upper-streams would directly affect water quality of cities in lower-streams. Therefore, it is imperative for all the cities sharing the same river or aquifer to act together to protect water sources by intensive pollutants discharge control.


Second, great efforts are required to construct works for protection of drinking water sources, promote ecological restoration around the water sources, and improve land and farming management to minimize non-point pollution. We also need modernize water quality monitoring systems to boost dynamic monitoring of water quality at drinking water sources.


Third, urban water environment must be restored. A city exhibits its momentum in architecture, its dignity in culture and its charm in water environment. Expansion of cities has damage urban water environment such as rivers become roads and lakes become square. In the new round of urbanization, it is must be a principle that city expansion cannot be at the cost of sacrifice unban water body. Hence, integrated harnessing of urban water environment has become a must for gradual enhancement by which we hope the cities can offer a high quality of water environment and consequently high quality of life for their residents in the process of urbanization.

In conclusion, China is undergoing its ambitious strategy of urbanization. This strategy will challenge China’s unfavorable natural water conditions which are critical for China’s water supply security. Chinese government has realized the water challenges in the process of urbanization and will take comprehensive measures as I mentioned above to safeguard its water security. We are willing to enhance exchanges and cooperation with countries and international organizations to share your successful experience in order to ensure China’s urbanization sustainable.