Clean(ish) Water at Last

For years, the seven beaches along Hong Kong’s Rambler Channel presented swimmers with a conundrum: awesome views, filthy water. Pollution at the beaches was so bad in the 1990s that the government withdrew lifeguards and put up banners warning people not to enter the water.

Now, more than a decade after the beaches were closed, new sewerage and water treatment facilities have improved the water quality to such an extent that the government has deemed it clean enough for swimming. Lifeguards will return to four of the beaches next summer and the rest will be re-opened by 2013, when new changing rooms and other facilities are built.

The water quality at Anglers’, Approach, Casam, Gemini, Hoi Mei Wan, Lido and Ting Kau beaches has improved by 70 percent since 2005, according to figures released earlier this month by the government.

That improvement comes thanks to a new water treatment plant in Sham Tseng and the opening last year of a new sewerage system in the villages along Castle Peak Road, which had previously relied on leaky septic tanks. So far, 210 of the area’s 400 village houses have been connected.

“These seven beaches have been subjected to different sources of pollution from every direction since the 1990s,” said Elvis Au Wai-kwong, the Environmental Protection Department’s assistant director of water policy. Raw sewage flowed directly into the sea from restaurants and houses, a problem that intensified as the population near the beaches increased from 26,000 in 1996 to 37,000 today.

The improvement to water quality has been dramatic. In 1997, more than 1,500 counts of e. coli bacteria were found in 100 millilitres of water gathered at Ting Kau Beach. Today, that level has dropped to 141. Lido and Hoi Mei Wan beaches are even cleaner, with e. coli counts of 87.

A beach must have an e. coli count lower than 180 for it to be considered suitable for swimming by the government. Hong Kong’s most popular beach, Repulse Bay, has an e. coli count of 11, and the city’s cleanest beach, Hap Mun Bay in Sai Kung, has an e. coli level of 3 — a reminder that, despite the recent improvements, the Rambler Channel beaches remain the most polluted in Hong Kong.

The problem is that, even though local sources of pollution have been mostly eliminated, the harbour’s strong currents which takes dirty water from other parts of the city and sends it towards the Rambler Channel. For that reason, pollution levels will remain steady at the Rambler Channel beaches until pollution levels are reduced in Victoria Harbour. That won’t happen until 2014, when the last outflow of raw sewage from Hong Kong Island — about 450,000 cubic metres a day — is finally treated.

That hasn’t stopped swimmers from taking a plunge at the closed beaches, which already attract several hundred people on summer weekends. One 61-year-old swimmer has visited Lido Beach every day for two years.

“I live in Tuen Mun but I don’t like the beaches there — they’re too dirty,” he said. “I can see for myself that the water here is good. Besides, the scenery is great and there’s never too many people.”

The recent improvement in water quality is not limited to the Rambler Channel. In 1997, just 10 beaches were considered to have “good” water quality, a number that has now more than doubled to 23. Beaches with “poor” or “very poor” water quality — beaches with e. coli counts above 180, in other words — numbered 15 in 1997 and zero today.

This story originally appeared in the November 28, 2010 edition of the South China Morning Post.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday December 01 2010at 07:12 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Environment, Public Space and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments are closed.