Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and an oral reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Dr Sarah Liao, in the Legislative Council meeting today (December 15) :
It has been reported that the Guangdong Province is experiencing a 1-in-50 years drought. So far, 65 per cent of the land in the Province has been adversely affected, leading to severe curtailment of agricultural production. The Mainland authorities have indicated that potable water supply to Hong Kong can be maintained at the agreed level only for the first half of 2005 but there is no guarantee thereafter. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the actions it has taken or will take to address the imminent reduction in potable water supply to Hong Kong; and
(b) whether it will explore other sources of potable water supply; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) The Government adopts a "Total Water Management" policy which encompasses an efficient and reliable potable water provision, conservation and protection of water resources and the water environment, and water reuse and recycling as far as reasonably practicable. The supply of Dongjiang water to Hong Kong can be traced to the mid 1960s when the Mainland authorities under their highest level of leadership made the provision of fresh water to Hong Kong a priority such that this supply shall be secure and guaranteed. This promise has persisted in the past four decades and will continue as reiterated by Premier Wen. The Guangdong authorities have also recently assured us of the secure and guaranteed water supply.
This said, as water is a precious natural resource, the Government, as well as each and every citizen, should have the duty to conserve the use of water. Whilst we have maintained the reservoir storage in Hong Kong at a healthy level of about 82 per cent full as at December 6, 2004, we have taken the following actions to address the issue in view of the current drought and shortage of water supply in Guangdong -
(i) Through established channels, we will continue to convey to the Guangdong side our concern about the present drought in Guangdong with a view to closely monitoring and reviewing the supply situation;
(ii) We have continuously conveyed the message of "Save Water" to the public through education and publicity. We are preparing television and radio advertisements to raise the public's awareness of the importance of saving water;
(iii) We have a tariff structure in place that encourages the public to save water; and
(iv) We have made use of seawater for flushing purpose, as far as it is cost-effective, to reduce our reliance on fresh water for flushing.
(b) From a sustainable development perspective, exploring additional water resources is of strategic importance to Hong Kong. As development of new water resources would need a long lead time, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) started a series of feasibility studies in the late 1990s on the development of alternative water resources to meet the future needs of Hong Kong. In 2002, WSD concluded that three different options, namely, extension of water gathering grounds, seawater desalination and wastewater recycling, are technically feasible to provide an appreciable amount of additional water resources.
As extension of water gathering grounds involves the highest unit development cost and would cause major environmental impacts, this resource would not be given a high priority for the time being. On seawater desalination, a detailed investigation study has already commenced. Through establishment and operation of a pilot desalination plant, the primary objectives of the study are to find out the technologies that are most suitable for the coastal waters of Hong Kong and their unit costs. The pilot plant has been in operation since last month and we expect that preliminary results would be available in the second half of next year.
For wastewater recycling, the Government is focusing on the use of advanced technologies to "reclaim" usable water from effluent of sewage treatment works for various non-potable uses. Gaining public support and acceptance will be essential to ensuring the success of this "reclaimed water reuse". We will therefore carry out pilot schemes to test out the technologies and gauge public perception of reclaimed water.
The first pilot scheme for reclaimed water reuse after tertiary treatment is being implemented in conjunction with the cable car project in Ngong Ping. This pilot scheme, which would reclaim water for flushing purpose, is scheduled for commissioning in late 2005 in conjunction with the operation of the sewage treatment plant thereat to tie in with the opening of the cable car project. Another reclaimed water reuse scheme is at the planning stage. This scheme will provide further treatment to the effluent from the secondary sewage treatment plant at Shek Wu Hui. The reclaimed water will be supplied to nearby users for toilet flushing and landscape irrigation, and possibly other non-potable reuse purposes such as street cleansing. Its operation is scheduled to commence in 2006 upon completion of necessary planning and detailed design.
In order to build up public confidence in reclaimed water reuse, comprehensive sampling and testing will be carried out in the two pilot schemes to monitor water quality and health-related data. Various publicity and education programmes will also be launched and views of the general public will be collected.
With the results from the above various pilot schemes gradually available in the coming year or so, the Government will be able to review its long-term water resource plan for securing adequate water supplies for the future of Hong Kong.
Ends/Wednesday, December 15, 2004