The Future of Hong Kong Water

By Bobby Ng 11 September, 2012

Bobby Ng, Assistant Director of HK's Water Supplies Department on the government's plans for water

Extreme weather condition in recent years is affecting local fresh water resource
Seawater desalination may be a promising supply of fresh water
HK government has been promoting schemes for both fresh and used water
Bobby Ng
Author: Bobby Ng
Mr Bobby Ng is now the Assistant Director of Water Supplies Department and is responsible for the strategic planning of water supply systems and water resources as well as ensuring water quality. He has 30 years of experience in water supplies from source to consumers’ tap. This includes the planning, design and construction of a number of major water supply scheme and treatment plant in Hong Kong. He also engages in the cross border transfer of raw water from Mainland China to Hong Kong.
Read more from Bobby Ng →

CWR: What do you see as the biggest challenge for securing Hong Kong’s water supply for the future?

BN: The major challenge we are facing is to change the water consumption habits of Hong Kong’s people to a more conservative manner.

At present, the local fresh water collected from natural precipitation can meet on average 20% to 30% of our total fresh water demand.  To make up the shortfall, fresh water is imported from the Dongjiang (DJ) in Guangdong (GD) Province.  GD has promised to provide an ultimate maximum of an annual supply of DJ water of 1,100 mcm which is sufficient to meet Hong Kong’s demand up to 2030.

In recent years, acute climate change which brings about more frequent occurrence of extreme weather condition is affecting the local fresh water resource and resulting in a downward trend in the quantity of our local catchment yield.  Cities in GD Province also experience the same phenomenon.  Coupled with the rapid growth of water demand; the yield of DJ and other major rivers to Pearl River Delta may not be sufficient to satisfy the need of individual cities.  Hong Kong needs to prepare for the challenges such as the extreme weather changes and be a good partner of other municipalities in the Pearl River Delta in promoting sustainable use of water.  That is why in 2008, the Hong Kong Government promulgated the Total Water Management (TWM) Strategy which put emphasis on containing  local water demand growth through conservation, while exploring alternative water sources such as seawater desalination to increase  water supply.  The success of the strategy depends greatly on the degree of change to more water-conservative habits in  the local population, which is a major challenge to us.

CWR: Can you explain the thinking behind the government’s decision to go ahead with  the desalination plant?

BN: Since the local fresh water collected from natural precipitation only provides on average 20% to 30% of our total demand, to make up the shortfall, fresh water is imported from DJ of GD.  In an effort to keep our water demand and supply in balance and minimise the risk of water shortages, we have been implementing various initiatives such as promoting water conservation, encouraging the use of water saving devices, increasing the use of sea water flushing, undertaking preventive measures to reduce water main bursts and leaks, exploring the use of reclaimed water for flushing and other non-potable use, amongst others  under the TWM Strategy.

However, in anticipation of the continued population growth, we estimate that the annual fresh water demand will increase steadily.  On the other hand, due to climate change, we expect to see more acute fluctuation in rainfall in coming years. Given the fast pace of economic development of other cities in the Guangdong region including Heyuan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou; an increase in water resources will be necessary, Hong Kong being one of the responsible partners in the Pearl River Delta should investigate and explore alternative water resources in order to mitigate difficulties encountered by our neighbours in Guangdong Province when they face a drought.

Sea water is abundantly available in Hong Kong and is not affected by climate change.  Under the TWM Strategy, seawater desalination is considered to be a promising alternative supply of fresh water to support the sustainable development of Hong Kong. We completed in 2007 a pilot study which confirmed the technical feasibility of desalination using reverse osmosis technology locally to produce potable water complying with the World Health Organisation guidelines for drinking water quality. We need to carry out a planning and investigation study of desalination plant at Tseung Kwan O Area 137 so that sea water, as an alternative water source, can be readily tapped in good time when needed.

CWR: The government has been tackling the issue of non-revenue water, how successful has this been?

BN: Due to Hong Kong’s mountainous topography, our water supply networks are under high operating pressure which may make the leakage rate on the high side.  Notwithstanding this reason, through the implementation of the Replacement and Rehabilitation Programme of Water Mains, Pressure Management, Active Leakage Control and other measures and efforts in reducing water loss, we have reduced the water mains leakage from about 25% in 2000 to 19% in 2011.

CWR: What measures is the government taking to address water efficiency in Hong Kong and how successful has this been?

BN: The Government has been enhancing water efficiency through implementing initiatives for fresh potable water and used water.

For fresh potable water, we have been developing the voluntary “Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme” (WELS) in phases to facilitate consumers to select water saving plumbing fixtures and appliances.  Since its launch in September 2009, showers for bathing, taps, washing machines and urinal equipment have been included in the scheme and a total of more than 360 models of these products were registered under the Scheme up to July 2012.  To promote water efficiency within Government, we have commissioned consultancy studies to review the water consumption practice in selected installations of government departments.  Through the process, we will develop water saving guidelines for these facilities without compromising the level of services to the public.

For used water, the Government has been taking forward water reuse/reclamation initiatives to address water efficiency in Hong Kong.  The two pilot schemes on water reclamation have been conducted at Ngong Ping Sewage Treatment Works and Shek Wu Hui Sewage Treatment Works.  The results of these two pilot schemes indicated that the supply of reclaimed water would be technically feasible for flushing supply and non-potable uses.  We have also been investigating the feasibility of supplying reclaimed water to Sheung Shui, Fanling and new development areas in New Territories North for flushing and other non-potable uses.  A consultancy study was also conducted to establish technical standards for recycling grey water and harvested rainwater for non-potable reuses. Various government departments have been adopting rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling in their projects

CWR: The price of Hong Kong’s water is currently one of the lowest in the world. As pricing is a mechanism for demand side management, what is the government’s view on increasing the price of water.

BN: In deciding the water tariff levels, factors such as public affordability and acceptability, economic condition, financial performance of waterworks operations, policy objectives to be pursued, views of the community and Legislative Council members and the ‘user pays’ principle will be taken into consideration.  The Government has no plan to increase the water tariff at the moment.

CWR: How does Hong Kong’s water use per capita compare to comparable cities, such as those without an industrial base?

BN: Hong Kong’s potable water consumption per capita is about 130 litres/day, as compared to a suggested world average of about 170 litres/day.  Hong Kong’s figure is not on the high side because the territory is distinguished from other cities that seawater is extensively supplied to cover about 80% of the population for toilet flushing, hence substantial quantity of potable water is conserved.

However, if we take account of the flushing water consumption as well, which stands at a level of about 90 litres/day per capita, there is possible scope for reduction in consumption and this is believed could be achieved through public education campaigns and the use of water saving devices.  On the management of our aged water distribution network, we have employed new technologies on water main leakage detection and pressure management measures which have helped to control water loss in our network and hence the demand.

CWR: Is there room for Hong Kong to be more conservative in its water use, e.g. with reference to different sectors?

BN: Water Supplies Department promulgated the TWM Strategy in 2008, which puts emphasis on containing growth of water demand through conservation.  We consider that there is possible scope for reduction in water consumption and this could be achieved through, amongst others, public education campaigns and the use of water saving devices.

CWR: What recommendations so you have for Hong Kong citizens?

BN: For  Hong Kong citizens, we have been promoting water conservation as a key element of the TWM Strategy, the following activities have been our main areas of focus:

  1. Targeting at the younger generation : the work includes the distribution of an information kit and a school water audit handbook to all primary schools; organising annually the Water Conservation Ambassador Selection Scheme for primary students; the publishing of a set of booklets as a teaching kit for liberal studies of the secondary curriculum; and conducting talks and roving exhibitions at schools throughout the school year;
  2. Calling for creative water saving ideas : we organised a competition in 2010-11 calling for creative water saving ideas from the property management sector, catering services and students of tertiary education institutes and changing the target contestants to households and secondary school students in 2011-12;
  3. Publicity on conserving the precious water resources, taking shorter showers and repairing inside services leakages: We have been continuing our on-going water conservation publicity and public education activities through broadcasting announcements of public interest on television and radio, distributing leaflets and posters, and arranging regular exhibitions, talks and seminars; and
  4. Use of water saving appliances – we have been implementing and promoting the voluntary Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme progressively for various plumbing fixtures and appliances to facilitate the public to select water efficient appliances.

Recommended additional reading:

Hong Kong: Stepping Up Water Security: Read our overview of HK’s  water security issues – are the steps taken by government to address this sufficient?

Hong Kong Water: 5 Challenges: Industry veteran, Daniel Cheng, MD of Dunwell Enviro-Tech and Deputy Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries talks about HK’s 5 challenges in securing reliable water supply.

A Vulnerable Dongjiang is a Vulnerable HK: Su Liu of the Civic Exchange on HK’s laissez-faire attitude towards water and why time is running out as the Dongjiang River which feeds HK becomes more vulnerable.

8 Things You Should Know About Hong Kong Water: Is Hong Kong’s water supply guaranteed? Can you drink straight from the tap? How much bottled water does Hong Kong consume? China Water Risk sets out 8 interesting facts about Hong Kong water.

Singapore: Future Ready in Water: EDB’s director of cleantech, Goh Chee Kiong, shares his views on SIWW, key technologies surfacing, new growth markets for industrial water and the role of government in innovation from R&D to piloting and eventually commercialisation.