HK's offer to use less water rejected

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am

An offer by Hong Kong to take less water from Guangdong has been turned down despite persistent drought in the Pearl River Delta.

Guangdong water officials said it was unnecessary for Hong Kong to cut back on its intake from the Dongjiang, a tributary of the Pearl River, according to the city's director of water supplies, Ma Lee-tak.

'We expressed readiness to reduce our intake if there was any need, but they said it was not needed at the moment,' Ma said, adding that Guangdong officials had been thankful for Hong Kong's 'friendly gesture'.

Hong Kong can draw a maximum of 820 million cubic metres of water from the Dongjiang, or East River, each year, or 3 per cent of the tributary's run-off volume.

Ma said the intake by Hong Kong was too small to make any reduction by the city meaningful to total Guangdong consumption.

He said any water saved by Hong Kong would be of little help to ease the drought, as most of the affected areas were away from the Pearl River. What was most urgently needed in these areas was irrigation water, rather than drinking water.

Ma said Hong Kong would have sufficient water supplies until the next rainy season.

Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a political scientist at City University, said Guangdong's decision carried a political overtone. Dongjiang water had for decades been regarded as 'politicised water' on Guangdong's part, and the two sides had in the past held bitter negotiations on the water price and supply quantity until the central government stepped in.

'It's like a duty, with an order from the central government to provide a steady water supply to Hong Kong to ensure economic and social stability in the city.

'So it's small wonder Guangdong would not want to take Hong Kong's so-called offer and complicate matters,' Sung said.

The Dongjiang supplies 70 to 80 per cent of the fresh water consumed in Hong Kong. In winter, Hong Kong draws about 2 million cubic metres of water a day from the Dongjiang. If necessary, the city could take half a million cubic metres less a day, Ma said.

He also said Hongkongers could provide psychological support to Guangdong residents by consuming less water. He called on people to start conserving, while there were sufficient supplies.

Environmental group Green Sense suggested Hong Kong should follow Macau in using economic incentives to encourage water saving. In Macau, families consuming less water have been offered a subsidy of up to 50 patacas a household. But Ma said Hong Kong had no similar plan.