$524m savings sought on water bill
Cheung Chi-fai and Quinton Chan
Hong Kong is aiming to reduce its supply from the mainland
Hong Kong could save at least $524 million on its water bill every year if it strikes a deal with mainland authorities on reduced imports from the Dongjiang river.
Sarah Liao Sau-tung, the secretary for the environment, transport and works, said Hong Kong would take between 600 and 650 million cubic metres of water from Guangdong annually, starting this year.
This is about 160 million cubic metres less than the amount supplied last year. The reduction, if coupled with a final deal on water payments with Guangdong authorities, could translate into savings of at least $524 million a year.
Under the existing deal, Hong Kong has to pay $2.5 billion for 810 million cubic metres of water each year - or $3.085 per cubic metre - even though not all is consumed.
Dr Liao said talks on the payments were continuing with Guangdong officials, but when asked if Hong Kong could soon be paying less for water she said: 'I think this would be the case.'
She said it was too early to say whether this would reduce households' water bills.
Dr Liao said the proposal was also aimed at minimising the city's over-reliance on the Dongjiang river and conserve the Pearl River Delta's water resources. 'It is the central government's policy to conserve water,' she said.
The proposal follows last year's completion of the closed aqueduct, which transfers water from the Dongjiang to Hong Kong, and soon after the flow of the river fell to a record low.
Dr Liao said: 'In the past, we needed to take more water to dilute pollutants and we were forced to discharge some water into the Shenzhen river when we didn't need that much. But with the new aqueduct in place, we no longer have to import that much.'
In the five years between 1999 and 2003, 538 million cubic metres of water was discharged into the river because local reservoirs were full.
Dr Liao said Hong Kong's reservoirs had the capacity to cope with any fluctuation in demand for water arising from population growth. But she said Hong Kong needed to formulate a better water-management strategy to achieve higher efficiency in usage.
'We might have to speed up implementation of a water-recycling project to meet demand which could arise from factories relocating to Hong Kong under the closer economic partnership arrangement,' Dr Liao said.
She said the use of recycled water for non-drinking purposes should be expanded. A pilot project will start in 2005 after the completion of a sewage treatment plant in Ngong Ping, Lantau. Dr Liao said the additional cost of turning sewage into reusable water was comparatively small.