• wethepeopleofhk

Hong Kong's water politics; health, independence

Hong Kong is DEPENDENT on China for fresh water:

have a realistic & achievable plan to solve this BEFORE talking about HK becoming an independent State!

If you make comments on social media in support of protesters in Hong Kong, you may just come across some kindly mainlanders who will not only disagree with whatever you say, but will threaten you and the city with cutting off your water supply!

Turning Off the Tap: Hong Kong’s Reliance On Chinese Water

Quinton Huang | November 29, 2017

Brown Political Review

For several years, Hong Kong [HK] has been a city in political turmoil, its population torn between identifying with Chinese authorities and embracing the territory’s unique cultural identity and legal autonomy. Any observer of the city can narrate the stories of mass protests or legal disqualifications of elected representatives that dominate media coverage. But underneath the feet, quite literally, of both protesters and government ministers lies a factor far more important to Hong Kong’s dilemma: access to fresh water—or lack thereof.

Hong Kong’s trouble with its water supply has a long history. Since the end of World War II, the city has developed an overwhelming dependence on freshwater from mainland China. In the 1950s, the thousands of refugees fleeing the Communists caused widespread water shortages in Hong Kong. In1960, the desperate colonial government, then led by Governor Alexander Grantham, reached a deal with neighboring Guangdong Province to purchase water from the newly built Dongjiang Lake. Though the quick fix temporarily quenched the expanding city’s thirst, droughts in succeeding years and further population growth soon pressured the government to purchase even more water from Guangdong.

With an established dependence, the pipe connecting Dongjiang’s water and Hong Kong grew to have a profound impact on Chinese-Hong Kong relations. The Chinese government was aware of the power of controlling a significant portion of the colony’s water supply.

Indeed, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai himself urged negotiators to view “guaranteeing supplies to Hong Kong” as a “political task,” seeing it as a chance to increase their control over the colony’s basic needs. They even went so far as to offer the water for free, which Britain firmly rejected.

After the Opium Wars, China ceded Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Islands to Britain indefinitely, and in 1898, ceded the New Territories for a 99-year lease. But Governor Grantham warned as early as 1956 that the Chinese would restore their rule of the entire colony when the lease for the New Territories was up: China supplied almost all of Hong Kong’s domestic water, all but guaranteeing Hong Kong’s return to the mainland. By the Sino-British negotiations in the 1980s, China’s leverage had become so successful that the British found themselves in an extraordinarily weak negotiating position—forcing Britain to concede the entire territory of the colony.

"Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai himself urged negotiators to view “guaranteeing supplies to Hong Kong” as a “political task,” seeing it as a chance to increase their control over the colony’s basic needs."

Today, as Hong Kong gradually integrates into China, this water politicking has only grown in importance. Since the handover to China, Hong Kong has seen a peak in its reliance on Dongjiang water, which today accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the city’s supply (with the other 20 to 30 percent coming locally). The water, which China once offered for free, now comes at a high price: The Guangdong government charges Hong Kong five times more for its water than it does for provincial cities such as Shenzhen. To make matters worse, the current deal for the contract’s renewal, valued at 13.4 billion Hong Kong Dollars (US$1.7 billion), represents a 20 percent price increase compared to recent years and has provoked backlash in policy circles.

Mainland water costs more than just cash: It poses a threat to Hong Kong’s political independence. Shenzhen, Dongguan, and three other major Pearl Delta cities also rely on the Dongjiang Lake as their main source of fresh water. Altogether, the number of urban residents dependent on Dongjiang water totals more than 47 million. As pressures from population growth and climate change mount, experts predict a future of intense inter-city competition for dwindling freshwater supplies, a situation that might force China’s central government to intervene.

One solution to reduce dependence might be to simply reduce water consumption, but Hong Kong doesn’t seem keen to be weaned off its thirst for freshwater. Per-capita annual water consumption, at 224 liters, is double the global average and, unlike in other world cities, has increased consistently over the past 15 years. The main culprit of this frivolous water use, experts contend, lies in the 1990s-era water subsidies that conceal the true cost of water. As a result, public awareness of the importance of water conservation is dismal. Worse, the territory’s water pipe system is incredibly leaky, with close to one-third of all city water lost before it reaching consumers. Still more water is lost through theft from the public water supply, most commonly in the form of unauthorized water cooling towers used by small businesses.

"Worse, the territory’s water pipe system is incredibly leaky, with close to one-third of all city water lost before it reaching consumers."

The clear choice for a city in Hong Kong’s situation would be to increase its locally-sourced water supply, thereby gaining some leverage in price negotiations. But the local government’s strategy and lack of strong investment have failed to make substantive steps toward water independence. Though the city government claims its 2008 Total Water Management Strategy is both multifaceted and comprehensive, critics have complained that relevant government agencies have “no sense of urgency” when it comes to reducing reliance on mainland water, instead seeing the territory as “entitled to the [mainland’s] resources.” One prominent think tank even goes so far as to declare that the Water Services Department “has been underperforming for nearly two decades,” often failing to meet legal standards, understaffing key water strategy enforcement agencies, and focusing overwhelmingly on engineering with little regard for public awareness.

The steepest obstacle to Hong Kong’s sustainable water future is the lack of political attention the electorate has given to the largely technical debate over water supply. Policymakers have long lamented public ignorance about the water crisis, in what has been called the “illusion of plenty.” Recently, however, citizens and politicians have been paying slightly more attention to water issues. In Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the city’s equivalent of a parliament, pro-democracy members, generally perceived as being more in tune with citizen’s needs, have raised motions to pressure the government to expand local stocks of fresh water. This shows some political responsiveness to the problem, but many of these motions were shot down in party-line votes by the pro-Beijing majority.

Despite these promising signs of public debate, it is doubtful that water supply will gain a foothold in the political consciousness of most Hong Kong residents.

This stands in stark contrast to the enormous public attention outcry after lead was found in public drinking water in 2015.

The government’s aloof response to the crisis shattered public trust in the current administration, and pan-democrat politicians pounced on the opportunity to use the scandal to hit back at the established government. But even the fallout from this scandal did not translate into heightened public consciousness about the city’s water writ large. If anything, it dialed back progress on water supply security, with residents more hesitant to approve of raised rates by a water services department deemed untrustworthy.

Unfortunately, irrespective of the quality of public debate, the city has limited options when it comes to building a sustainable water supply. Desalination, a tool to remove salt from seawater that has seen success in similar cities like Singapore, accounts for only a small portion of Hong Kong’s current local supply of freshwater. Failed experiments at large-scale desalination projects in the 1980s, as well as its higher cost compared to Dongjiang water, have mostly halted visions of complete reliance on desalination. Cheaper water available nearby reduces Hong Kong’s incentives to produce freshwater at home.

More realistically, desalination could play a part in a larger system of local water supply that would emphasize water recycling, reduced water waste, and rainwater collection. But for this system to succeed, it would have to include reforms in water governance and change public attitudes toward the seemingly plentiful water that flows out of Hong Kong’s faucets. For the territory to do something significant about its water, concerned Hong Kong residents will need the help of both engineers and the general public. Some see politics as a realm of dysfunction, but the water issue will need to be politicized—and thus brought into the public consciousness—before it will ever be solved.

"More realistically, desalination could play a part in a larger system of local water supply that would emphasize water recycling, reduced water waste, and rainwater collection."

Seen as a public utilities issue, a concerted push for increased water security in Hong Kong should not be controversial. A more self-reliant Hong Kong water system would allow the city to avoid conflict with mainland municipal governments and reduce the strain on what is already an imperiled freshwater source. But, seen in light of its complicated history, the politics of water and of Hong Kong’s status are too intertwined to allow for a simple solution.

Mainland China’s control over Hong Kong’s water supply represents an important political tool that will grow in importance as the fight for the city’s soul rages on. For thirsty residents, a cheaper and cleaner drink might just have to wait.


"Hong Kong’s water security: a governance perspective"

"8 Things You Should Know About Hong Kong Water"

"Political dynamics and water supply in Hong Kong"

"Hong Kong’s Inconvenient Truth"

Hong Kong’s lead in water scandal task force releases final report

Coconuts Hong Kong Nov 3, 2015

After more than three months of waiting, a task force set up to investigate excessive lead in the water supply of some of Hong Kong’s public housing estates has delivered its final report.

The group concluded that lead levels above the WHO limit found at Kwai Leung Estate (Phase Two) and Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City were caused by the use of leaded materials to solder the joints in pipes.

Copper alloy fittings were also found to be leaking lead, but not in excessive amounts.

The task force took apart more than 100 pipe components and fittings from the two estates in the process of the investigation. It also compared the results of tests with those of Hung Hei House at Hung Fuk Estate in Yuen Long, which used stainless steel piping that did not require solder jointing. Unsurprisingly, the water supply at the latter estate was found to comply with WHO guidelines. 

Nine other housing estates found to have excessive lead in the water had the same lead soldering as Kai Ching Estate and Kwai Leung Estate (Phase Two). We’re starting to sense a pattern here.

NOT to use soldering materials with lead in them was thankfully among the recommendations made by the task force. It was, however, decided that no follow-up is needed at Kai Ching Estate’s Mun Ching House where Legionnaires’ Disease was detected in the water on May 28, since disinfection was successful. 

Meanwhile, at the first day of a hearing into the scandal yesterday, both the government and the construction industry said they were unaware that lead soldering could result in tainted water, despite the concept being widely reported, including in a WHO study.

The inquiry heard that workers could save HK$79 a flat if leaded materials were used. 

Hong Kong’s lead-in-drinking-water crisis: everything you need to know

SCMP 16 July 2015. Ben Westcott and Samuel Chan.

As the lead-in-water crisis spreads to more public housing estates in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post’s BEN WESTCOTT and SAMUEL CHAN spoke to experts and reviewed laws to answer the issue’s major questions.

The fear over tainted water in Hong Kong has thrown hundreds of residents' lives into chaos and left thousands more wondering if their water is safe to drink.

The discovery of lead at levels up to three times higher than the World Health Organisation's recommended level in drinking water from a public housing estate in Kowloon has grown to affect more than 1,500 local households.

Elderly Hongkongers have found themselves carting heavy containers of water to their flats, while the housing minister has been forced to apologise over confusing statements on the crisis.

Parents and homeowners have been left with dozens of questions - can I drink the water in my flat? Should I boil it? Will any lead in the water affect my children? Who is responsible for the affair?

The bad news for families who are concerned about their water quality is that lead can be extremely dangerous to drink, particularly for children who will be affected by smaller quantities than adults.

But that isn't the whole story. There are ways you can be sure your water is safe to drink.

Water quality testing is available at certain laboratories in Hong Kong for people concerned about their tap water, and certain filters can be bought that will remove lead from your water supply.

Compared to other countries, Hong Kong has very strict guidelines about how much lead can be in tap water. It adheres to the World Health Organisation allotment of 10 micrograms per litre, less than in the United States or on the mainland.

Once the water has entered the private pipes in buildings, however, it is no longer the responsibility of the government and can become exposed to a range of chemicals, metals and bacteria from poorly maintained pipes.

How safe is it to drink Hong Kong's tap water?

Hong Kong's water, when it reaches the city's water mains, is completely safe to drink, and complies with the WHO's strict standards.

The problems start when it hits the pipes inside buildings both public and private across the city, which might not be regularly maintained and aren't directly regulated by the government.

Once it has contact with these pipes, the quality of water can change dramatically.

How does Hong Kong's limit on lead in tap water compare internationally?

Hong Kong allows up to 10 micrograms of lead per litre of the city's tap water, the same as the WHO standard. This is the limit also used by Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.

The United States, however, will allow up to 15 micrograms of lead, while the mainland has a limit of 50 micrograms per litre.

Does lead affect people of all ages equally?

No. Young children in particular will be very vulnerable to damage from lead poisoning. Even smaller doses that wouldn't affect an adult will have a serious effect on young people, including unborn children.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, over-exposure to lead can leave children irreversibly damaged both physically and mentally.

How much lead is too much?

Recommendations vary from country to country - the WHO recommends no more than 10 micrograms per litre of drinking water, while regulators in the United States allow 15 micrograms. Water samples from the Kai Ching Estate contained between 10.8 and 35.1 micrograms per litre.

But some experts said drinking water would need much higher concentrations of lead than this to become dangerous. It is also safe to shower and bathe in water with higher levels of lead concentration than is safe to drink. 

Should I boil the water or get a filter to remove the lead?

Boiling the water will have no effect on the amount of lead and could in fact increase the concentration, as some water will evaporate, leaving the heavier lead behind.

Certain filters can remove lead from your water, but do research before you buy. Filters can be expensive and not all of them will be equally effective.

What kinds of buildings are most at risk?

Lead is no longer used as a component for making water pipes in post-war construction in the city, so lead or other harmful materials should not be present unless substandard construction supplies have been used. Under normal circumstances, lead will not appear as the pipes age.

The question may instead be whether the contracted developer of your unit block or house has used materials that adhere to the city's safety standards.

How can I make sure the pipes at my housing estate or house are safe?

Take two water samples of 300ml each - one taken immediately after turning on the tap and the other taken two to eight minutes afterwards. Any sediment present in interior pipes should be shown in the first sample while the second sample is to get as close a result as possible to the water coming directly from the filtration plant.

Where can I take samples for testing and how much will it cost?

One major testing lab, the Hong Kong Standards and Testing Centre, introduced a test for lead in a single water sample on Tuesday for HK$250, if one takes the samples to the centre.

The water container and tap nozzle should be disinfected to avoid any contamination that may interfere with the test results.

Results will be available in two working days.

If I live in a rented village house, which is not managed by a company, what can I do to ensure the tap water is safe to drink?

Taking your home water samples for testing should be the first step.

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