End not in sight for Hanoi water shortage

By Vo Hai, Pham Chieu   October 23, 2023 | 07:16 pm PT
End not in sight for Hanoi water shortage
People at the Thanh Ha urban area in Hanoi line up to secure clean water on October 15, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Delayed water supply projects, a government decree to reduce groundwater exploitation and unattractive tariffs are blamed for Hanoi's ongoing water shortages.

For the past two weeks several districts in Hanoi like Thanh Xuan, Nam Tu Liem, Thanh Oai, and Hoai Duc have experienced water shortages, forcing people to line up until 2 a.m. to secure water from trucks and tanks.

Many have been unable to take showers, while some have moved to relatives' houses or dug wells at home for water.

With the end of summer two months ago water demand in the city of 8.4 million people has declined.

Water levels in rivers like the Red, Da and Duong, its main surface water sources, have risen thanks to rain and floods upstream.

Nevertheless, the ongoing water shortage is real and cannot be resolved immediately.

Reduced groundwater exploitation

Of the 1.5 million cubic meters of water supplied to users every day, groundwater accounts for almost exactly half. However, after being exploited for decades, its levels have fallen sharply, even causing subsidence, and there is arsenic contamination.

To protect groundwater sources and ensure sustainable water supply, the government has adjusted plans for until 2030 to prioritize surface water and gradually become less reliant on groundwater.

The groundwater exploitation will be reduced gradually from 770,000 m3 now to 413,000 m3 by 2050.

Some waterworks have closed down their wells as a result. The Ha Dinh pumping station has for instance shut eight of its 17 wells, and will only supply 10,000 m3 a day until 2030, a third of its normal capacity.

By 2050 all its wells will be closed down.

The Phap Van plant, with a capacity at 30,000 m3 a day, has reduced its groundwater exploitation to only 5,000 m3, and expects to stop drawing water completely by 2030.

Delayed water projects

After reducing groundwater exploitation, Hanoi has had to compensate by using surface sources, but several water projects are delayed.

For example, the Red River Water Pumping Station in Dan Phuong District with a capacity of 300,000 m3 a day has been delayed by nearly three years.

It was supposed to become operational in the first quarter of 2021, but the city has allowed for the completion date to be pushed to the fourth quarter of 2024.

Nguyen Phuc Hoan, deputy head of the Dan Phuong urban management department, said the project is entering its final phase, with the equipment used to extract water from the Red River to be installed this month and for water treatment in December.

The places where the pipes are to be laid have not been cleared yet.

Its Da River counterpart saw its first phase completed in 2009 with a capacity of 300,000 m3 a day. The second phase to double its capacity by 2020 has not been completed to this date.

Work to increase the capacity of the Bac Thang Long-Van Tri water factory from 150,000 to 200,000 m3 a day was expected to be completed in 2018, but has not even begun.

Similarly, the Xuan Mai water factory in Hoa Binh with a capacity at 200,000 m3 a day was expected to be completed in 2020 but construction has yet to begin.

Lack of suburban water supply networks

In the last 10 years, after Ha Tay Province merged with Hanoi, the capital's western and southwestern districts began to experience rapid urbanization, with several urban areas springing up along the Le Van Luong-To Huu axis, the National Highway 32 section in Hoai Duc District and Thang Long Avenue.

They have become highly populated as a result, but their water sources and water supply networks have failed to develop at the same pace.

According to a water supply survey done in late September by the Hanoi People’s Council, the water supply networks in inner districts have fully met the demand of 100-150 liters per person per day. But the situation is different in suburban areas, where several water projects remain incomplete.

As a result, 139 communes do not have their own waterworks.

For instance, a water supply project for 14 communes and towns in Hoai Duc District by the Western Hanoi Water Company was expected to be completed in 2018, but remains incomplete.

Several communes have had water shortages since June.

Waterworks for communes in Soc Son, Dong Anh, Gia Lam, Chuong My, Xuan Mai, and Dan Phuong either have been delayed or have not got off the ground yet.

Unattractive water prices

Since July 1 this year water tariffs for domestic use increased from VND5,793 for the first 10 m3 to VND7,500, and will further increase to VND8,500 in 2024.

In June the office chief of the Hanoi People's Committee, Truong Viet Dung, said water prices have not been adjusted for the last 10 years while costs have increased.

Due to the policy of reducing groundwater exploitation, the city has to rely more on surface water factories, which cost more to operate, he added.

The city has managed to attract 23 investors for 40 water supply projects which will increase Hanoi’s capacity to over 2.3 million cubic meters a day.

Twenty nine other projects will meet 96% of water demand in rural areas (the current rate is 80%).

But several of the investors are struggling with the low water tariffs as costs keep rising.

At the end of 2022, the Western Hanoi Water Company, which has constructed water supply networks in 14 communes and a town in Hoai Duc District, sought help from city authorities due to mounting losses.

The company said people in rural areas like Hoai Duc District are mostly farmers with low incomes and are used to using rainwater and groundwater and do not consume water from pipes.

Besides, the district's sparse population and scattered houses lead to high costs for pipes and other equipment, it said.

The high costs and low prices inevitably led to losses, it added.

The cost of water bought by the pumping stations differ from place to place. Water from the Duong River costs around VND3,000 per cubic meter more than from the Da River, and so the Viwaco company, which distributes water to low-lying areas like Thanh Xuan, Hoang Mai, Dong Da, and Ha Dong, draws most of its water from the Da.

Thach That, Quoc Oai and Chuong My Districts which are on high grounds and receive no supply from Viwaco, are thus left without enough water although they are located near the Da.

Le Van Du, deputy head of the infrastructure division at the city Department of Construction, admitted supply shortages would not end anytime soon at the current pace of construction of waterworks.

In summer 2024 Hanoi could see a shortfall of around 50,000 m3 a day, mostly in its western and southwestern areas.

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