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Sponging troubles away

Expanding recycled water usage is urgent but not really a priority, according to the government. While China is enhancing its rainwater recycling system, a local specialist claims implementing rainwater collection and water re-usage does not necessarily imply a large investment

The Macau SAR Government recycled water project – which includes the construction of a water recycling plant in Coloane, announced in 2015 – continues in pause mode.
Contacted by Business Daily, the Marine and Water Bureau (DSAMA) explained that the project –reference d in the Recycled Water Development Plan 2013-2022 – is ‘temporarily suspended.’
‘The government has a large number of public works which need to be attended to and the priorities of several development plans have to be taken into account,’ the marine authority wrote in reply to Business Daily enquiries.
DSAMA added that there are no ‘further plans in the short run’ in that regard.
In its development plan for water conservation, the government claimed that ‘exploring new alternative waters has become an emergency matter in Macau.’
Still according to the report, water consumption has increased at an average rate of 3.89 per cent over the last ten years, creating demand pressure and increasing Macau’s dependency upon water resources from China.

While claiming in its development plan that increasing tourist visitation to Macau has pushed up water consumption levels in commercial facilities, the government argued that ‘it is urgent to foster a plan to reduce the pressure ensuing from accrued water demand as a result of regional development.’
Speaking to Business Daily, the Director General of China Green Building and Energy Saving (Macau) Association, Edmund Lei, pointed out, however, that the project for the water recycling plant is being “postponed,” such provision has been cut short in other public facilities and energy-intensive consumption sites, such as Cotai and the University of Macau.
China Green Building is one of the local advisory and consulting agencies that advocate measures for improving energy efficiency, following China’s standards and recommendations on green energy.
Lei recalled that the amount of investment required to build the central water production facility totals more than MOP10 million.
Yet, DSAMA confirmed on the phone that rather than a matter of budget capacity, the postponing of plans for the plant is a matter of priorities defined within the current political agenda.
While the plant project continues in limbo, Lei suggested other measures can be developed and implemented at comparatively lower cost.
“Rainwater collection and recycling is a more feasible approach since the upfront investment is less significant and the treatment technology is less complicated,” he said.

Sponge city
Last week, the city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, announced plans to ensure that 80 per cent of its built-up areas contain vegetation capable of absorbing rainwater to minimise soil erosion and create alternative sources for water re-use, reported.
Some of the measures highlighted include trapping and purifying rainwater and flood drainage.
The project is inscribed in the national ‘sponge city’ framework, of which the pilot project – in Guangzhou – was launched nearly a year ago (see box).
The idea of sponge city is based upon measures to ensure greater permeable surfaces and infrastructure so that more rainwater can be absorbed and re-used.
On Wednesday, the China Railway Construction Corporation announced it was launching a new type of permeable concrete in a bid to address urban flooding, according to China Daily.
DSAMA said the Bureau ‘had no relevant information’ on the use or adoption of such a concept.
The Director General of China Green Building explained that they “adopt the use of permeable finishes at outdoor areas to encourage reducing rainwater run-off and improving the storm drainage capacity against flash storm(s).”
Among its usages, Lei claimed “reclaimed water is designed to provide for toilet flushing and irrigation.”
“Currently, the Seac Pai Van Social Housing and University of Macau are built with reclaimed water pipe systems for connecting to the yet-to-be-built reclaimed water production plant,” he said.
He added that the expansion project of the São Januário Public Hospital Complex was “designed with rainwater collection and recycling system” in mind.
Still according to Lei, local hotel facilities have also incorporated dual pipe systems (domestic and reclaimed water), while others have their own rainwater recycling system to provide on-site treatment.

Breathing the air
The Guangzhou sponge city programme foresees short-term goals that include the retention of 10.5 per cent water coverage in urban areas as well as 42.5 per cent forest coverage in built-up areas, according to
The programme also details plans to build 73 sponge parks in the city: green areas created to absorb water during the rainy season in order to reduce disruption caused by flooding.
In response to Business Daily enquiries, the Macao Environmental Protection Bureau claimed it has no ‘relevant information’ to provide on the sponge city concept.
According to the latest report on the state of environmental conservation in Macau, dating from 2015, the surface of green zones per capita ‘has been decreasing since 2010, with a 3.6 per cent drop recorded in 2015 comparatively to 2014.’
The Bureau attributed such reduction to the construction project of the Light Rail Train (LRT), as well as demographic growth in relation to ‘little significant increase in Macau’s territorial area.’

Water absorption
According to China Daily, the first pilot site for a ‘sponge city’ project in Guangzhou started on July 2, 2016. The project, located in the Tianhe district, entailed transforming a lake into a wetland park, with the aim of reducing the volume of storm water by some 180,000 cubic metres during heavy storm periods. China’s recent efforts to tackle the problem of water conservation by promoting and implementing the sponge city programme has already yielded the development of 30 official sponge cities in the country, reported.