Water deal results in $1.7b waste

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 12:00am

Freshwater supplies worth $1.72 billion have been dumped into the sea over the past five years, according to the Director of Audit.

And he warned that a further $1.84 billion could be wasted over the next five years because there was no way to reduce the supply.

Director Dominic Chan Yin-tat, presenting to legislators his latest investigation into government spending, said the water supplies agreement between Guangdong and Hong Kong was too inflexible.

The deal is based on an annual average growth of 3.43 per cent between 1995 and 2000 and cannot be altered.

However, annual consumption has increased by only 1.28 per cent over the past 10 years as factories have moved to the mainland.

As the unused water is stored in reservoirs, there is an overflow during heavy rain.

Some 716 million cubic metres were dumped into the sea between 1994 and last year, and another 596 million cubic metres are expected to overflow between now and 2004. Between 2005 and 2012, 679 million cubic metres could be lost. The price varies each year, but last year it was $2.80 per cubic metre.

This year, Guangdong is supplying 770 million cubic metres. In an average year, rain supplies 280 million cubic metres.

The Water Supplies Department signed a deal last year that cut the annual increase to 10 million cubic metres, but Mr Chan said there was an urgent need to cut supply and minimise overflow, which he described as 'an expensive waste'.

He said leaking pipes added to the problem, and criticised the department for not allowing factories and companies to use water for air-conditioning.

The auditor also criticised the quality of water from Hong Kong's main source, the Dongjiang River, which has worsened in recent years.

The report said the quality did not comply with mainland standards.

Treated water also failed to meet the department's standards on cloudiness, aluminium content and residual chlorine, although it did meet international standards.

There was also no contingency plan to deal with possible outbreaks caused by water-borne parasites, such as cryptosporidium and giardia.

Director of Water Supplies Hugh Phillipson defended the deal. He said rainfall was erratic and the overflows in the past five years had been caused by heavy rain.

He said Hong Kong would end up paying more, or rationing water, if supply was cut and there was a drought.

'We must ensure that the water supply is reliable,' he said. 'We have a very reliable supply from Dongjiang River, but not a very reliable supply from the sky.' He promised to negotiate with the mainland to reduce the supply and said officials would relax the policy on water for air-conditioning.

Water was safe to drink and the quality had greatly improved since a treatment plant was built in Shenzhen last year, he said.