People are watching Jinan's Baotu park for signs that the long drought is ending A 15-year drought has dented Jinan's image as the 'Spring City', leaving the famed Baotu Springs dry except for a few shallow puddles. Baotu Springs Park was once a popular attraction in downtown Jinan, but it has not received any visitors since September 2001 because the drought has dried up the underground spring. The park used to attract about one million people a year. But there may be some relief in sight. North China has seen steady rainfall this year and experts say the springs could come back to life if the underground water table rises another four metres. A resurgence would symbolise a respite in the region's drought. 'It's directly related to the weather,' said Li Xiaopeng, an employee of Baotu Spring's news office. 'Every day it rains, we have more of a chance.' The chief of the Baotu promotions department, Wei Cheng, said that last year and this year had been among the driest in Jinan's modern history. 'If the springs come back, lots more people will come,' he said. When the springs bubbled back up in 2001, during the National Day holiday week, 'everyone came to see it', Ms Li recalled. But even an end to the drought would not end Jinan's water troubles. The pace of development in Jinan, the high-rise capital of Shandong, China's second most populous province, is sucking up underground water supplies. Residents may not fully understand their problem, a Beijing-based water expert says. Ma Jun, a researcher with the Sinosphere environmental consulting firm and author of a book about China's water crisis, said: 'Jinan is located on a plain at the foot of a mountain and therefore has a rather large groundwater reserve. Still, it is not enough to sustain the quick economic and social development. 'Jinan will again have to turn to groundwater and the springs will all run dry when the water table drops. However, the water table is still higher than in cities like Beijing or Tianjin, where springs ran dry decades ago.' A media consultant with the Jinan Times, Zhao Li, said Jinan's groundwater level had sunk 10 metres in the past year. Despite the looming crisis, Jinan residents are not required to conserve water. Most believe two mountain reservoirs will keep taps flowing. Businesses say they have not been asked to ration water. But an official with the Jinan Water Conservancy Bureau said the economy was already suffering because of the water shortage. 'The past few years have been really severe,' he said. Ordinary people are looking to Baotu Springs at least for a symbolic turnaround. 'Now there's a stone and a pool but no water,' said Qiao Meng, a Jinan cafe owner. 'Very few people are there. 'When it rains, it's always good news.'