Hong Kong Needs an Innovative Way to Cut its Reliance on Water Imports

The recent price increase for Dongjiang water imports has sparked debate on whether we should continue relying on the Dongjiang as our primary source of water. The proponents of relying less on water from Guangdong are taking advantage of this rate increase to urge the Hong Kong government to spend more resources on water conservation. Some go as far as demanding that the government increase the water tariff to discourage the wasting of water.

I am not against the idea of conserving water so we could import less from the Dongjiang. But I can hardly see how conservation policies by themselves could lead to less reliance on imports.

The increase in the water tariff is a perfect example. If the tariff rises by only a small amount, few will have any incentive to conserve water and the policy will become ineffective. Conversely, if the tariff increases significantly, it will raise the issue of affordability and the price hike will come under attack from politicians and the general public.

In either case, it will only lead to endless debate within society. In the end, we will most likely end up with the status quo, still relying on the Dongjiang as our primary water source.

What we need is an innovative policy in addition to conservation measures. This may include reusing water that gets dumped into the drainage system and/or rainwater harvesting – both of which are water resources readily available throughout the year. The former may be complicated, as it will probably involve restructuring of the existing pipe network and redefining our health and environmental policy. It may be years before our waste water can be effectively recycled. But the latter option is technically feasible.

A partnership between the government and the private sector can help, with the Buildings Department giving floor area concessions to development projects and/or the Environmental Protection Department handing out a subsidy to encourage building owners and developers to install a rainwater harvesting system.

If either of these policies can be adopted, I envisage that Hong Kong could decrease its water imports from the Dongjiang within five years. We would also have more bargaining power in future negotiations on the price of Dongjiang water.

As Guangdong cities develop, we can expect increasing demands on Dongjiang water. This means our water import rates may rise more frequently. Our government needs to act now to help Hong Kong rely less on the Dongjiang and ensure a sustainable water supply for all.

<This article appeared in South China Morning Post on 04/11/2014 Letters column as “Hong Kong Needs an Innovative Way to Cut Its Reliance on Water Imports”>

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