On Beijing's northeastern outskirts, a major construction project is under way. It's not an Olympic stadium, apartment blocks, or a massive shopping centre. The site is for something much simpler: water. In Beijing, as in many large cities, it's not safe to drink the tap water. The rule is either buy bottled water, use purifiers or boil. The real danger here, however, is not just unclean water, but no water at all. Water availability per capita in Beijing is just 1/32 of the international average, according to state media. With a rising population, that situation is only going to get worse. Some predict a water crisis in the city as close as 2010. The construction is for a 100 million cubic metre groundwater project, with a similar project on the southwestern outskirts. While these are important moves to stem water shortages, they are also causing the city to sink. Other measures are being taken to try to increase water supply . One is bringing water from neighbouring Hebei province . Another is creating artificial rain by shooting artillery shells with dry ice to seed clouds. The city has also cut down on irrigation in parks, and at one point closed 1,000 car washes that were not recycling water. To help cut consumption, 2 million water-saving taps were distributed free to residents. Despite these actions, the message of water shortages is a small whimper in a city abuzz with the Olympics and its own roaring development. Recently, I asked a noodle-shop owner if he was aware of water shortages. He said he had seen newspaper reports, but didn't really think about it much. 'I guess I always assume it's going to be there,' he said. A lack of water will probably not become a debilitating issue in the next decade for people who can afford to live in nice apartments and lobby the city to keep a steady supply. But for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, it is already raising serious health issues. With the problem looming over the city's future success, the government needs to do more to get the message out. As good as Beijing has been at keeping protesters out of Tiananmen Square, or chastising karaoke bars for using pirated music, it needs to be twice as diligent when protecting its water supply. Yan Changyuan, director of the Beijing Municipal Water Resources Bureau, issued a report saying the city needed to focus more on recycled water and rainwater. The report noted that, while 84.7 per cent of the city's industrial waste water was recycled, only 200 companies in the city had the equipment to use the water, and even fewer actually used it. The city can do better. What's the point, after all, of trying to build a modern, international capital if there's no water to drink?