Extra effort needed to stop Hong Kong wasting water
Apart from measures to improve metering and reduce leaks, demand has to be reined in by charging consumers more of the real cost of what they use
Hong Kong is an exception to the global issue of water shortages, thanks to a heavily subsidised and reliable supply from across the border for most of our needs.
But as we are reminded from time to time, in the event of drought it can be unwise to depend too heavily on a single source of supply. That warning looks a touch prescient at the moment, with a dry spell, a heatwave and falling reservoirs amid predictions of climate change.
Rainfall so far this year is the lowest bar the smallest on record for the same period in 1963, when the city endured severe water rationing. More than half a dozen cities and 40 million people share Hong Kong’s reliance on water from the Dongjiang, or East River.
Former Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying warned that this supply should not be taken for granted as a dry spell for Hong Kong meant the southern mainland region would also suffer parched conditions.
This is what prompted the government to push ahead three years ago with plans for a HK$9 billion desalination plant in Tseung Kwan O to turn seawater into tap water.
Construction is expected to begin next year. Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said recently the plan would provide one tenth of the supply of drinking water now imported from Guangdong.
But it is an expensive option by comparison. The current dry spell and run of blistering temperatures highlight the extent to which a guaranteed supply of water and low tariff make Hong Kong wasteful.
For a city that has experienced insecurity of water supply within the living memory of older residents, the waste is extraordinary. Apart from the failure of the Water Supplies Department to diligently repair leaks from ageing mains, other reasons for 30 per cent of fresh water being unmetered between 2006 and 2016 include unauthorised consumption and inaccurate metering.
Per capita consumption through direct usage has risen 17 per cent in two decades, to twice the world average.
Ultimately the government needs to redouble its efforts to reduce wastage and demand. Apart from measures to improve metering and reduce leaks, it needs to rein in demand by incrementally charging consumers more of the real cost of what they use.