Conservation seen as main weapon against shortages Water from the Yellow River will be rationed under a rights system as part of a central government bid to quench the country's thirst and quell widespread disputes among different regions. Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng told China Central Television that every user, down to the household level, should be allocated a share of the water from the Yellow River. 'The drying up of the Yellow River is a problem of water rights,' Mr Wang said. 'Within each province, there should be shares allocated to every enterprise, every unit, and every household at every level. This is the most important step for water saving - the assignment of so-called water rights.' Those rights would be allocated after authorities deducted the amount of water that must remain in the river for environmental reasons. A pilot project in Zhangye , Gansu , had been successful, Mr Wang said. Under that scheme, consumers of water from the Yellow River and its branches were assigned water quotas for every tonne of iron or cotton produced. Before the rationing project was implemented, people had been killed in struggles over water usage, said Tian Baozhong , the Zhangye party secretary. Disputes, clashes and even armed battles over irrigation resources are often seen in the mainland's rural areas. Disputes even erupted among five cities in Henan last year over seeding clouds to produce rain. 'Now [the country owns the water], while specific users have rights to use water shares, and the shares are tradeable,' Mr Tian said. 'Local farmers no longer take water for granted, as something falling from the sky and for unlimited use.' But Mr Wang said urban areas needed to do more to conserve water and to prevent its pollution. 'Without the establishment of a water-saving mechanism, no matter how much water we divert, it is a waste and invariably cannot meet our needs,' he said, referring to the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. In an online survey by CCTV before the interview, four-fifths of more than 9,000 respondents selected conservation as the most significant measure for combating water shortages. Only 14 per cent chose the South-to-North Water Diversion Project as the most important measure, and the remaining 4 per cent ranked the Three Gorges Project highest. 'It is good that people have noticed that water conservancy is the key issue,' Mr Wang said. He forecast great increases in the price of water because the existing prices did not reflect the extent of the water shortage or cover the cost of sewage treatment. 'Prices will be the ultimate leverage that we can use. It is a waste that the resource in shortest supply is very cheap,' he said.