THE foulness of the Fragrant Harbour has become a million-dollar headache for hotels and business which rely on it for their water supply. The Hotel Furama uses sea water for flushing water and to cool its air-conditioning system. The management estimates the degraded harbour water quality caused by reclamation and sewage has cost them $2.5 million over the past 15 months. The Mandarin Oriental would not disclose the figures for escalating expenses caused by the filthy sea water, but admits to similar problems. Since phase one of the three-part Central reclamation began in September 1993, water quality has plummeted. The hotels and businesses which rely on harbour water for their cooling systems and flushing water say the harbour is like a sewer. 'It is diabolical. The harbour is getting so narrow that there is no tide to flush out the water twice a day. With all the floating debris that gets caught up in our strainers, pipes and filters, it is costing us a fortune,' said the Furama's general manager, Bruno Dedual. The Furama intake pipe, running into the harbour just east of Queen's Pier, has been in place since the hotel opened in 1973. But the staff are fighting a round-the-clock maintenance battle just to keep the pipes clean. Last winter, the Furama spent $150,000 to fix one pipe clogged by debris-laden water and $500,000 was spent to repair the strainers. 'The pressure behind the pipes is tremendous - 10,900 litres per minute - and if there is a blockage we have big trouble,' said Furama chief engineer Anthony Lam. 'The cost to fixing our clogged motor was another $400,000. When you consider the amount of money the Government will make from the sale of the reclamation land, it is incredible that nothing is spent to solve this problem. 'If you add up our costs, it is easily over $2.5 million'. Last June, the Furama had to scrap its 22-year-old filtering system and find a new source of water. In desperation, it switched from sea water to fresh water, at an extra cost of $32,000 a month. Mr Lam claims most of the other businesses are doing the same. But Hong Kong water regulations do not allow a building to switch its source from salt water to fresh. 'Anyone who uses our fresh water for other than what it was originally supplied and intended for is breaking the regulations,' said Water Services Department senior engineer Tse Min-tat. 'If it is unauthorised use, they will be fined $4,000. If it continues, then they will have their water supply cut off.' The Furama staff are aware they are playing fast and loose with the rules, but say they have no other choice. 'We could have continued with the system by adding straight chemicals, but that would have cost too much,' Mr Dedual said. The final phases of the reclamation project will be completed in late 1997. Harbourside businesses will get their water from pumping stations to be located on the Tamar reclamation. A consortium of the biggest harbourside property owners, led by Hong Kong Land, has met the Government to hammer out a contingency plan for the businesses relying on harbour water. 'The Government has been approached to help us find a solution to this problem,' a Hong Kong Land spokesman said. The consortium has asked the Government to develop a base-line water monitoring programme and take action if the pollution rises above that level.