Increased population, coupled with greater urbanization and a rising middle class in developing countries, is putting significant strain on our water supply and water infrastructure in Asia. Governments, communities and water system providers recognize the issues and have been rethinking how they plan, invest and maintain their water infrastructure. Their aim: reinforcing new and existing infrastructure with more flexibility and resilience.
This is the water challenge facing Asian cities today.
Preparing for the Unexpected
Hong Kong’s water strategy is an example of an all-encompassing approach that identifies actionable plans. These plans incorporate competing water demands for human consumption and industry with infrastructure capacity and condition. Preparing itself for unexpected events is the core driver of this strategy.
Hong Kong’s fresh water supply comes from local gathering grounds and raw water imported from Dongjiang (DJ) in Guangdong Province, China. The water supply arrangement may be adequate and reliable to meet the current water demand. However, the fresh water resources are facing various challenges, including increasing water demand arising from population and economic growth; greater fluctuating trend in the local yield; occurrence of extreme weather and severe drought as a result of climate change; and keen demand for DJ water resources due to the rapid population and economic growth in the Pearl River Delta Region in Guangdong Province.
In response, Hong Kong is centering its energy on its Total Water Management (TWM) strategy. The TWM program is based on a suitable integrated strategy that readies Hong Kong for uncertainties such as acute climate changes. The strategy focuses on water conservation and developing new water resources that are less susceptible to climate change. In 2017, Hong Kong targets to substantially complete the TMW Review, which will extend the forecast and planning horizon to 2040.
Constant State of Innovation
Embracing innovation is Hong Kong’s strategy to improving its freshwater supply. Since the 1950s, it has been successfully supplying seawater to consumers for toilet flushing. Today, the seawater supply network covers about 85 percent of the population in Hong Kong and saves about 270 million cubic meters of freshwater every year.
Although the majority of the residents in Hong Kong are already using sea water for flushing, some areas that are far from the sea are using fresh water. To conserve freshwater, Hong Kong is investigating if wastewater after advanced or ‘tertiary’ treatment can be used for flushing, hence reducing the use of fresh water.
Hong Kong has also embarked on the design of its desalination plant, which will provide an extra source of water independent of climate change.
To meet the demands of the growing population, innovative solutions, such as desalination, have been gaining traction. Though the process is energy-intensive, Singapore and Australia are among those currently using or developing desalination facilities. Hong Kong is preparing its desalination plant, while India is also exploring the technology.
Through Fresh Eyes
Water is a finite resource, yet the demand is not finite. Access to water is a human right, yet the cost to provide water services – both the infrastructure and operation – is considerable and must be accommodated by the end-users to drive the appropriate behaviors, both in quantity and quality.
This requires understanding and education of the general public and industrial users. Equally, it challenges utilities even further to evolve their operations and business models – how can they recapitalize assets and generate sufficient revenue, helping to evolve perceptions of water not just as a precious resource for survival but as an economic asset, too?
These are the big questions facing governments and water leaders in Asia and throughout the world, and we all need to work together to achieve the answers.