In the northern Chinese city of Xian, a new city-wide system of water treatment is proving a successful solution to a water problem that has plagued Beijing for decades.
A pilot plant has been installed at a nearby residential area, where residents can wash their dishes and wash their hands before going out to cook.
The treatment system has already reduced water pollution from about 90 per cent in 2012 to about 40 per cent now, according to Li Yuanming, the city’s deputy mayor.
Mr Li, who heads the city-run water treatment programme, says it’s a success story that can be replicated anywhere.
“The problem is not that we are using the same water treatment system.
The problem is that we use the same amount of water,” Mr Li told the BBC.
“We have to improve the system.
So we’re working with a team of local experts.”
‘It’s a shame that we can’t do better’ Mr Li says the local water board has had to replace water tanks every few months, as it tries to keep up with demand for water.
But the new water treatment works in tandem with existing water treatment equipment in the city.
The system has been designed to treat treated wastewater that has been pumped out of a treatment plant for other use.
It is also designed to collect and treat wastewater that had previously been collected from nearby residential areas, where it is being sent to a nearby treatment plant.
“The wastewater is collected, treated and sent to the treatment plant,” Mr Liu said.
Water treatment works like this: wastewater is pumped from the treatment facility and mixed with sand, then mixed with water to remove sediment, then pumped back out again to the city from a local treatment plant, which then pumps water into a system to treat it.
Each treatment plant uses different types of water to operate.
The local water treatment facility uses an estimated 400 million cubic metres of water a day, while the central treatment plant produces 1.3 million cubic meters.
Mr Li said the local treatment works with a standardised design and has been in place since 2004.
“There’s no reason why we should have to switch,” he said.
“If we want to keep the water quality in the centre of the city, we can use existing water management methods, such as pumping.”
China’s water crisis In January, the authorities announced a new plan to tackle water pollution.
It included reducing the amount of freshwater in the country’s rivers by 30 per cent, which will mean more fish and birds will survive, and the elimination of industrial waste from rivers.
In a statement, the central government pledged to “make a huge contribution to solving the water crisis in the entire country”.
The new water management system has also been used to tackle the impact of the severe drought in the southern part of the country.
It will have to be improved to cope with more frequent and heavy rainfall, Mr Li said.
And he expects it will be tested by the Chinese government soon.
How China’s water problems have affected its citizens in the past Mr Li hopes the new system will help improve water quality.
He said he hoped that the system will encourage residents to wash their plates more frequently, to reduce the amount they use of plastic bags, and to use less plastic packaging.
A Chinese woman poses in front of the Shanghai Municipal Water Treatment Plant.
‘People should be doing it together’ China’s new water policy has also helped address the countrys lack of rain in recent years.
Mr Liu hopes the city can also help solve the water problem in the region’s most populous province, Heilongjiang, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the population of Beijing.
I’m hoping to make a big contribution to the problem of water pollution, he said, by encouraging people to be more involved in water conservation.
It’s important that the water conservation is done together, so we can solve this problem together, he added.
With the city planning its first-ever municipal water plant, Mr Liu is also hoping to encourage citizens to use recycled plastic bottles, as well as other recycled materials such as glass, in their household waste.
China has faced water shortages for decades, but its new policies are likely to make the problem worse.
On the surface, the new systems are a step in the right direction, said Zhang Hu, who studies water in China at Beijing University of Finance and Economics.
But, he warns, they may also have unintended consequences.
Some people might think it’s fine to throw away their plastic water bottles, he says, but it could lead to more plastic pollution in the water supply.
And, if people don’t take a closer look at their waste, it could make them think twice about washing their dishes, he warned.
Many people don, he adds.