A water-abundant urbanism? The new urban water profiles of Beijing and Tianjin

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Forbidden City on lake, Beijing

The key research goals in this project are:

  • To examine the changing urban water profiles of Beijing and Tianjin, following the construction of the South-North Water Transfer Project.
  • Explore the possible emergence of a water-abundant urbanism in places long defined by water scarcity.
  • To identify how environmental flows are defined, allocated, and used -– and how that might differ from understandings of environmental flows in other countries.

The details

The Middle Route of China’s South-to-North Water Transfer Project now supplies over 1 billion m3 of high-quality water annually to the megacities of Beijing and Tianjin.

The two cities are now highly dependent on water drawn from the distant Danjiangkou Reservoir (in Henan/Hubei) for their drinking water supply. The water flows over 1000km from the Reservoir along a gravity-fed open canal which then splits into two main trunk lines: one to Beijing and one to Tianjin.

While the drivers of water scarcity in North China are contested , the South-North Water Transfer Project is officially envisaged as “balancing” the supply of water between water-abundant South China and water-scarce North China.

This new, secure, and expensive supply of drinking water is fundamentally changing the water consumption profiles of these formerly water-insecure cities, freeing up other sources of water for use in groundwater recharge and urban greening.

In Beijing, while domestic users make up the largest proportion of the city’s water consumption and agricultural and industrial water use continue to decline, “environmental water” is a relatively new and rapidly growing category. Precisely which water - transferred, recycled, or groundwater - is being used for these environmental flows is unclear, as are the geographic distribution and objectives of these flows.

Nonetheless, substantial environmental flows suggest that a new water-abundant urbanism may be emerging in Beijing and Tianjin. This project will examine the changing urban water profiles of Beijing and Tianjin and explore the possible emergence of a water-abundant urbanism in places that have been long defined (discursively if not materially) by water scarcity.

The graduate researcher on this projects is: Menyao Li

Supervision team

Other joint PhD projects