Beijing's Giant New Desalination Plant Will Give Water to the People

Beijing is one thirsty city. Its population of 22 million consumes barely 100 cubic meters of water per capita—one fifth the international water-shortage level—thanks to a chronic drought in the nation's north. But this massive desalination plant could help supply a third of the city's water singlehandedly.

Despite moving some 1.5 billion cubic meters of water from the province's reservoirs to Beijing since 2008 as part of the North-South Water Diversion Project, China's capital city continually suffers from shortages. But now, the Chinese government is hoping to instead harness the sea for its water supply.

Beijing's Giant New Desalination Plant Will Give Water to the People

The drought in China's north is drying out entire rivers along the Yangtze tributary system - image: AP Images

The state-run Global Times recently reported that officials have begun building a massive coastal desalination plant in the Caofeidian district of Tangshan, in Hebei Province. "Ocean currents make the water cleaner and better for desalination in Caofeidian than other areas of the Bohai Gulf," the Global Times reports.

When completed in 2019, the plant should be capable of scrubbing one million tons of seawater every day to produce as much as a third of the potable drinking water consumed by Beijing's residents. The $1.1 billion plant will utilize a proprietary—and domestically developed—reverse osmosis technology for the scrubbing and a $1.6 billion network of 170 mile long pipes to get it to the city. All this scrubbing doesn't come cheap either. The water delivered to Beijing costs $1.29 a ton, double that of diverting it from provincial reservoirs.

Still, Beijing is forging ahead with the plant, which is the second phase of an ambitious regional water supply plan centered around desalination—the largest desalination scheme in all of China, in fact. The already-completed first phase plant, also located in Caofeidian, is already pumping 50,000 tons of water a day with plans to increase its capacity to more than triple that, or 180,000 tons a day.

Both plants are run by Aqbewg, a conglomerate of the Norwegian Aqualyng company and the state-owned Beijing Enterprises Water Group (and presumably managed by Mister Mxyzptlk). With this desal plant providing a steady supply of water to its massive population, Beijing should be able to begin aggressively addressing its smog problem—widely considered the worst in the world. [Global Times via NYT]