Hong Kong must go with flow on the price of water

Faced with the prospect of shrinking supplies, leaks and less rain, it’s time we diversified and stopped hiding behind some of the cheapest bills in the world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 10:26pm

Officials like to claim we need to preserve our humongous reserves to save for a rainy day. Now, if only they would exercise the same foresight to save water when actual rainy days are expected to be fewer and more erratic in the future.

That’s the prediction of scientists, including ones from the Observatory, due to the effects of global warming.

We had a taste of things to come early this year. As Paul Zimmerman of the Civic Exchange wrote: “Subtropical Hong Kong gets an average of 2,400mm of rain a year, with about a tenth of that coming in May. But for 2018 less than 170mm had fallen on the city for the first five months, under half the normal average for this period.”

Even some government-friendly lawmakers are fretting about the issue. But our government still thinks we can rely on Guangdong, which supplies about 80 per cent of our water, mostly from the Dongjiang, or East River. Did no one tell our officials not to put all their eggs in one basket?

If the “Greater Bay Area” economic integration project, which is being touted by the government as the next greatest thing for the city’s growth, turns out to be a success, it would mean our neighbouring cities will grow bigger and demand more water.

Meanwhile, a 2015 study in the Journal of Hydrology has warned that water in the Dongjiang could shrink by 24 per cent over the next 50 years. Can we bet on Guangdong authorities to continue to supply us with adequate water in the coming years and decades, especially as other megacities compete for more water?

Elizabeth Quat, of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, recently came back from Israel and is gaga over the country’s desalination system to supply fresh water. She thinks Hong Kong should do the same.

It’s time to diversify our water supplies. Desalination is one solution. Another is to combat water wastage. Each year, we lose about a third of our water supply though leaky pipes and other problems, which, as Zimmerman pointed out, is roughly equivalent to our entire local water catchment.

But we don’t care because our water bills are among the cheapest in the developed world, as our government essentially subsidises them.

Let’s try a free market solution and start charging market prices, so people know water is a precious commodity.