Advisory Council on the Environment

Confirmed Notes of Meeting between the Advisory Council on the Environment and the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme International Review Panel

Date : 26 May 2000
Time : 3:00pm
Venue : Conference Room 1, 10/F, Citibank Tower, 3 Garden Road, Central


Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE)

Mr. Peter H. Y. Wong (Chairman)  
Dr. Ho Kin-chung  
Prof. Lam Kin-che  
Mr. Lin Chaan-ming  
Mr. Otto L T Poon  
Mr. Plato K T Yip  
Mrs. Philomena Leung (Secretary)  

Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme International Review Panel (SSDSIRP)
Prof. Donald Harleman (Chairman)
Prof. Leonard Cheng
Dr. Albert Koenig
Prof. Dr. Eng. Sebastiano Pelizza
Prof. Qian Yi
Prof. Rudolf Wu


In-attendance :

Mr. Kim Salkeld Deputy Secretary for the Environment and Food
Mr. Rob Law Director of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Mr. Benny Wong Assistant Director (Waste & Water), Environmental Protection Department (EPD)
Mr. Edmond Ho Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Sewage Infrastructure Planning Group), EPD
Mr. Barry Chow Senior Environmental Protection Officer (Sewage Infrastructure Planning Group), EPD
Miss Samina Khan Executive Officer, EPD
Mr. C H Lam Assistant Director (Sewage Services), Drainage Services Department (DSD)
Mr. W W Chui Senior Engineer (Sewage Services), DSD
Miss Petula Poon Chief Executive Officer (B), Environment and Food Bureau (EFB)
Miss Cora So Executive Officer (B), EFB


Agenda Item 1 : Confirmation of Minutes of the 75th Meeting held on 26 June 2000

The Chairman welcomed members of SSDSIRP and introduced to them the members of ACE. In response to the Chairman, members of IRP advised the meeting that they had elected Prof. Donald Harleman Chairman of the IRP.

2. The Chairman said that it had been some time since the SSDS was formulated and it was time that it should undergo a review in the light of the technology development in sewage treatment and the economic development of the Pearl River Delta Region. New way of thinking might also stimulate innovative solutions for water quality problems in Victoria Harbour. He said that Hong Kong had little experience in handling cross-boundary pollution problems and he hoped ACE could pay a visit to European countries like Denmark or Germany to learn from their experience.

3. A Member thanked IRP for spending time to listen to ACE's views on the SSDS. He urged IRP to explore and list out all possible options before recommending the most suitable one for Hong Kong. Another Member echoed that Member's view on keeping an open mind to exhaust all possible solutions.

4. A Member said that problems in tunneling works had delayed the completion of SSDS Stage I. He asked whether IRP had any plan to handle such problems should they occur again in stages that followed. In reply, DEP reminded ACE members that IRP was not yet in a position to respond to those questions but would take into account their views in the review.

5. A Member was glad that the review could be taken as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world Hong Kong's determination to combat pollution problems. He urged IRP to keep an open mind in conducting the review and looked forward to collaboration with the Mainland to improve regional water quality. He hoped the Administration would accept drastic modifications of the SSDS, if deemed beneficial in the long run.

6. Prof. Harleman agreed that water pollution problem in Hong Kong was a regional one. In respect of cross boundary sewage treatment, if ACE would like to make overseas visit he would recommend San Diego which had 15 years of experience in working with Mexico in sewage treatment.

7. Prof. Qian Yi informed the meeting that the government of the Guangdong Province was prepared to tackle regional water pollution problems and was working closely with the Hong Kong government. She then reminded ACE members that overseas experience might not be entirely applicable in the present case because unlike other relevant places in the world, Hong Kong and the Mainland belonged to one country.

8. A Member hoped that the close relationship between Hong Kong and the Mainland would facilitate the co-operation in this aspect. He suggested the IRP to pay particular attention to the level of treatment so as to cater for the public's changing aspiration. He was of the opinion that CEPT was adequate but urged the IRP to consider a treatment level which would be sustainable in the regional context. He also hoped the IRP would re-consider whether the treatment system should be centralized or distributed.

9. A Member said that Hong Kong should aim at a sustainable solution to sewage treatment rather than catching up to resolve the existing problem, and felt that merely meeting the Water Quality Objectives was not adequate. He said that during a briefing conducted by the Territory Development Department on the proposed Southeast Kowloon Development, he suggested including in the planning stage of the new town a closed sewage treatment and recycling system so as to reduce the sewage load to be treated at the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works (SISTW).

10. Prof. Leonard Cheng agreed with that Member's remark on aiming at a sustainable solution because additional cost would be incurred should upgrading of the system be required in future. He said that, however, care must be exercised to avoid incurring too much cost from adopting an unnecessarily advance level of treatment. He welcomed ACE members' views on possible collaboration with the Mainland and on the extent to which Hong Kong was prepared to contribute to the project so that the IRP could work on a more practical recommendation.

11. The Chairman said that the Mainland's financial difficulty in catching up with Hong Kong's enhanced sewage treatment was well understood. The Administration should carefully consider possible financial assistance to the Mainland to facilitate its contribution to improvement of regional water quality. He said that the IRP, when carrying out financial analysis, might consider spending part of the money in subsidizing the Mainland and take into account the possible benefits gained. Prof. Cheng said that the Chairman had expressed the basic economic principle in an effective way but he felt that subsidizing the Mainland should not be included in the context of SSDS review.

12. The Chairman said that the public was not yet prepared to pay for the full cost of sewage treatment and it would be difficult for the Administration to recover the full cost. It would help relieve the government's financial burden if treated effluent could be put to some use like nutrients for the fishing industry.

13. Prof. Harleman said that in San Diego there had been a debate on the options of upgrading the primary sewage treatment to biological treatment to cater for the total quantity of sewage, or building a more expensive tertiary treatment plant to cater for a portion of the sewage and reuse it. Though technology allowed the use of treated effluent as potable water, it failed to gain the acceptance of the public and the treated effluent could only be used for irrigation purpose at present.

14. The Chairman remarked that since Hong Kong used seawater for flushing, the sewage contained high level of chloride which complicated the recycling process of the effluent. Prof. Harleman echoed Mr. Wong's observation but pointed out that the advantage of using seawater was to improve the performance of the treatment process at the SISTW. A Member said that Hong Kong was using potable water for street washing. He felt that it would be more environmentally friendly if treated effluent could be used. Prof. Harleman undertook to take a closer look at the issue and come up with a balanced solution.

15. A Member urged the IRP to take into account during the review the adverse impact of incinerating sludge which contained chloride.

16. A Member recalled that the option with an outfall in the Lema Channel was not favoured due to geotechnical problem. He asked if the problem could be overcome and the option be ranked again. Another Member echoed that it was more a political problem rather than a geotechnical problem because the Mainland felt uncomfortable with the idea of discharging effluent in their waters.

17. A Member said that to ensure the sustainability of SSDS, the concentration of the important pollution parameters, for example total nitrogen, should be kept within the Water Quality Objectives in the long run. Another Member agreed with that Member's point and said that there was a general thinking among academics in Guangzhou that the nitrogen concentration in the Pearl River Delta Estuary was approaching a critical level which would bring about red tide. He urged the IRP to take into account in the financial analysis of the review the potential loss in relation to red tide.

18. Prof. Dr. Eng. Sebastiano Pelizza said that as a tunneling expert, he found no significant difference between the geological conditions in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world. He said that though it was impossible to have knowledge of the detailed geological conditions at this design stage, the difficulties encountered during Stage I would provide experience in proceeding with further stages.

19. In reply to a Member's question on the difference between the Water Quality Objectives of Hong Kong and the Mainland, Prof. Qian said that there were two water quality standards in the Mainland : one was the surface/ground/marine water standard and the other was the wastewater discharge standard. The latter had specified parameters and was applicable to industrial sewage discharge. In reply to the Chairman's enquiry on enforcement programme, Prof. Qian said that the State Environmental Protection Agency required all industries to meet the wastewater discharge standard by 2000. Currently, around 14% of municipal wastewater was treated before discharge.

20. A Member asked what was the expected water quality of the Pearl River Delta region when all the industries in that region had met the water quality standard. Prof. Harleman said that even if all industrial wastewater was properly treated, the water quality would still be affected by the agricultural activities which were difficult to control.

21. A Member said that during a recent forum on regional water quality management where around 40 people from Hong Kong and the Mainland participated, he gathered that it was the sentiment of both sides to expedite improvement works. Another Member agreed and said that both sides should quickly compromise on a goal for achieving a certain level of water quality in the region and start striving towards it. A third Member said that owing to the fact that Hong Kong at present was economically better off than her counterpart, the Administration should be prepared for making a larger financial contribution to the improvement works. He said that Hong Kong's loan to Guangdong for constructing a closed water pipe to transport potable water was a good example of subsidizing the cost of a regional infrastructure to protect water quality.

22. DEP reminded ACE members that though water quality partly depended on the Mainland's sewage discharge, the objective of the review was however not to devise a new sewage system for southern China and Hong Kong, but to examine whether the existing sewage strategy for the catchment in Victoria Harbour was worth pursuing. Prof. Harleman said that instead of recommending one option, the IRP would list out all the alternatives with the pros and cons for the Hong Kong government to consider.

23. A Member said that it was critical to set a water quality level which both Hong Kong and the Mainland should aim to achieve in 10- or 20-years' time so as to facilitate the IRP to advise on the level of treatment required. Another Member said that having regard to the money already spent on SSDS, the public would expect a once-and-for-all solution to achieve an acceptable water quality in the long-term. A third Member said that the time for the SSDS to take effect and the flexibility for future modification were factors to be considered during the review.

24. A Member said that the Lake Yellow Knife in Canada contained no nutrients, hence no life in the water. He asked if the sewage in Hong Kong was treated to contain little nutrient concentrations, would the marine biodiversity in the Pearl River Delta region be adversely affected. Another Member said that Hong Kong would never become a freshwater oligotrophic lake like Lake Yellow Knife.

25. In reply to the Chairman's enquiry on the timetable of the IRP's work, Prof. Harleman said that the IRP would have a meeting with the Legislative Council on 27 May and a public hearing on 28 May. All the views collected would be taken into account during the review. They would then visit Hong Kong again to discuss the preparation of the review report during the period from 14 to 16 September. The report was anticipated to be completed by end of October. They would present their views and recommendations in the second week of November subject to government's arrangements.

26. The Chairman thanked the IRP members for spending time listening to their views and he looked forward to the recommendations of the review.


Environment and Food Bureau
August 2000


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