Water Efficiency Editor's Blog
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 10:54 AM
Year of the Water Dragon
In our sister publication, Distributed Energy, we’ve explored the contrast between domestic investment in technology by the US government as compared to its Chinese counterpart. The truth is, clean technology and renewable energy startups in the US are struggling to compete in a global market that’s dominated by foreign industries that receive funding from their own governments. It’s called the Valley of Death, and it’s been charged with curtailing US innovation and domination in the global energy market.
But what, you may be asking, does that have to do with water efficiency?
Beyond the obvious implication—that the relationship between energy and water is such that any setback in terms of energy efficiency and clean technology adversely impacts water resource management—there’s another reason to pay close attention to the funding priorities of other nations: infrastructure. While our local, regional, and state agencies struggle to keep up with leaks and pipe failures, in other parts of the world, infrastructure repair, rehabilitation, and construction are taking precedence.
Case in point: our old friend China.
According to the Water Stress Index, China—along with India, Australia, and the US—has a high risk rating due to the extreme water stress, including demand that often exceeds 80% of the total renewable water resources available. The Water Stress Index is compiled by global risk advisory firm Maplecroft and is calculated by “evaluating the ration of a country’s total water use from domestic, industrial, and agricultural use, against the renewable supply of water from precipitation, streams, rivers, and groundwater.” And while the Middle East and the countries of North Africa are considered to have the highest overall risk, the US and China are also in the crosshairs of extreme water risk as well. For the US, the water risk is based primarily on severe drought (www.waterefficiency.net/WE/blogs/Location_Location_Location_1241.aspx) and the consumption of groundwater at a rate that exceeds replenishment capacity.
For China, the water risk is based on climbing populations and rising industrial and agricultural use. In fact, according to the latest figures available from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, China municipal water withdrawal is expected to rise by 10% as populations in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai explode.
We first took a look at infrastructure projects in China on the eve of the 2008 summer Olympics, in a blog entitled “Drowning Dragon.” At that time, Beijing was diverting millions of gallons of water from rural areas in order to meet growing urban demand. One particularly egregious project involved the divergence of 80 billion gallons of water from four reservoirs in the Hebei Province, an area already decimated by a decade-long drought.
In 2009, China announced a new project along the Yangtze—site of the infamous Three Gorges Dam. The new project involved the construction of three canals along the Yangtze, designed to transfer 12 trillion gallons a year from the Yangtze to the increasingly urban north. The project’s estimated cost hovered around $62 billion, and as I reported at the time, the massive public outcry in response to the project compelled government officials to take a second look. (www.waterefficiency.net/WE/Blogs/238.aspx).
“It can only be a supplement to the water shortage in the short term,” the minister in charge, Zhang Jiyao, told the Associated Press. “More important, we must depend on saving water.”
Saving water seems to be the new M.O. in China. This week the country announced that it had invested 345.2 billion yuan ($54.75 billion) in water conservation projects last year. This included 114.1 billion yuan provided by the federal government and another 231.1 billion yuan supplied by local government agencies. Part of the investments—which were designed to provide safe drinking water to the 20.55 million residents trapped in drought-prone regions, while also ensuring that another 63.98 million rural residents continue to have access to safe drinking water—included funding for rehabilitation of reservoirs, and improvements in agricultural irrigation and water conservation infrastructure. A senior official was quoted as saying that the Chinese government has pledged to invest a total of 400 billion yuan in water conservation projects over the next 10 years.
I ended my 2009 blog by asking, “If China is successful in solving its water woes through conservation and efficiency, could the country provide a blueprint that other similarly challenged communities could emulate?”
So what do you think? Could China become a role model instead of an example of “what not to do?” Is the US destined to be an “also ran” when it comes to funding domestic industries? And what, if any, correlation can be made between the lack of support for the clean tech industry and the infrastructure funding gap that’s consigning our water conveyance systems to decades of degradation and disrepair?