To achieve marine and fresh water quality
objectives that will safeguard the health and welfare of the
community and meet various conservation goals, by planning for
the provision of sewage facilities, intervening in the planning
process and enforcing the controls in the Water Pollution Control
Ordinance and the Dumping At Sea Ordinance.
Received approval from the Executive Council to build Stage
Two of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme in two phases and adopt
a polluter pays approach.
Initiated a review of the Trade Effluent Surcharge scheme to
address concerns raised by restaurant operators.
Saw $1.3 billion allocated to tackle village pollution.
Saw the commencement of a $255 million sewerage project in
Yuen Long to provide public sewerage at Kam Tin and Nam San
Wai, and to upgrade the existing sewers at Au Tau.
Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.
The future of
water quality in Victoria Harbour has been subject to a long
and complex debate centring on how best to treat the large
amount of sewage dumped into it each day. In 2005 that debate
was finally being laid to rest. The community generally supported
the Environmental Protection Department's (EPD) plan to introduce
future sewage facilities in two phases and have the first
phase running by 2013-14. The next issue, however, is how
to pay for it.
The Government is pursuing the polluter pays principle for sewage
treatment: the people who pollute have to pay to clean it up. In
the case of sewage that means virtually everyone in Hong Kong. However,
households pay only half their share of sewage treatment expenditure
at present, and trades and industries pay about 80 per cent of the
cost of treating the excess pollution they produce. The heavy subsidy
leaves the Government no choice but to dig into its coffers to cover
the full costs of sewage treatment. Future treatment facilities,
which will upgrade the treatment standards and hence further improve
the overall water quality, will be even more expensive to operate.
The EPD has calculated that it would likely cost an average household
in the region of $30 per month by 2013-14 to recover the full operating
costs of sewage treatment and disposal, well below levels paid in
other major cities around the world. For most residents, that would
be a small price to pay to clean up the heart of Hong Kong, its
The Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) has been under discussion
for the better part of the past decade. In the early days the debate
was at times heated and entrenched, so an International Review Panel
of experts was asked to recommend options on the best levels and
locations of treatment facilities. After studying the feasibility
of the options, the EPD consulted the public in 2004. Generally,
people now support a proposal to set up a centralised treatment
system and build it in stages.
The proposal is, in fact, the second stage of HATS. Stage One
has been operating since 2001 and treats 75 per cent of the sewage
generated around Victoria Harbour at a chemically enhanced primary
treatment plant on Stonecutters Island. However, this has not resulted
in uniformly better water quality. While significant improvements
have been recorded in the east and centre of the harbour, water
quality in the western harbour is deteriorating, for two reasons.
First, 25 per cent of sewage, mostly from Hong Kong Island, still
ends up in the harbour basically untreated. Second, the large volume
of effluent discharged from Stonecutters is not disinfected. Overall
water quality in the harbour cannot be further improved until these
problems are fixed.
|Providing disinfection to the HATS effluent
will allow re-opening of the Tsuen Wan beaches for swimming.
Stage Two of HATS offers a two-pronged solution. In Stage 2A, disinfection
would be introduced at the Stonecutters plant, deep tunnels would
be built to transfer Hong Kong Island's sewage to the plant and
the plant's facilities would be expanded, all by 2013-14. This would
cost $8.1 billion to build and $430 million a year to operate on
top of the current annual $1 billion in operating expenses for all
sewage services in Hong Kong. Stage 2B would involve building biological
treatment facilities, a higher and more expensive form of treatment,
with the timing dependent on water quality and sewage flows. The
Executive Council approved the proposal in April 2005, together
with a policy of full recovery of operating expenses from polluters.
The proposal was then presented to the Legislative Council where
it was generally supported, although a couple of concerns were raised.
The disinfection process has been queried by some in the community
who fear it would increase chlorine levels in the harbour. Before
discharge, the EPD plans to chlorinate then de-chlorinate the treated
effluent to remove the residual chlorine. An environmental impact
assessment (EIA) for the proposed disinfection, begun in summer
2005, is being carried out to ensure this will be the case. In December
2005, the Finance Committee agreed to allot $166.5 million for both
the Stage 2A EIA and the planning and design work for the deep tunnel
link to Hong Kong Island.
|HATS Stage 2A includes provision
of disinfection at the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment
The other area of concern is the timing of Stage 2B. This stage
would cost $10.8 billion to construct and $700 million a year in
operating costs, far more than Stage 2A. The Government acknowledges
the need to build Stage 2B in the long run, but at the moment is
not certain of the timing. We have agreed to review the situation
in 2010 or 2011, taking into account water quality trends, sewage
flow and population growth, which appears to be slowing down. The
community's acceptance of the polluter pays principle will also
factor into our assessment, for we cannot continue subsidising the
cost of sewage treatment if long-term sustainability is to be achieved.
|The preferred options for
HATS Stage Two.
||HATS Stage Two treats the
sewage discharged from the northwest of Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong people pay some of the lowest sewage charges in the
developed world, partly because they are not paying the full costs
of sewage treatment. The current system costs the Government about
$1 billion a year to operate, but households and the trades combined
pay less than $500 million in annual sewage charges, or only half
their share. An average household pays $11 per month. Apart from
sewage charges, heavy polluters, such as restaurants, pay extra
through the Trade Effluent Surcharge which amounts to a total of
$210 million a year. That still leaves the Government having to
dig into its coffers to cover the full costs of sewage treatment.
In keeping with the polluter pays principle, the Government is
determined to raise sewage charges so that 100 per cent of current
and future operating costs can be recovered. We will still fund
capital expenditure, but polluters have to carry their share of
the burden. When Stage 2A of HATS is commissioned, operating costs
will increase by more than 50 per cent compared with the present.
We reckon households will likely need to pay in the region of $30
per month to cover future operating costs including those of Stage
2A. The goal is to gradually increase the charges until full costs
are recovered. Percentage-wise, this is a big increase, but in dollar
terms it is affordable to most households. It is also still at the
low end of what other developed cities pay.
The prospect of higher charges is never an easy one to broach with
the community. However, there are signs that the community is more
willing to consider the polluter pays principle. A government survey
found more than 60 per cent of people were willing to pay more for
a cleaner harbour. The Legislative Council has also indicated its
willingness to discuss the issue. We aim to put forward a proposal
on increasing sewage charges to legislators in the first half of
2006, together with suggested changes to the Trade Effluent Surcharge
(see box). The outcome will have a direct bearing
on the future water quality of Victoria Harbour and the principle
of polluter pays. The Government alone cannot continue paying to
treat people's sewage. Rather, everybody in the community needs
to recognise they are polluters and they have a responsibility to
prevent their pollution from damaging Hong Kong's greatest natural
asset, Victoria Harbour.
|Household sewage charges
are collected as part of the water bill.
Commercial operators with higher pollution
loads pay a Trade Effluent Surcharge (TES). Currently about
$210 million of the $250 million cost of treating the excess
pollution they produce is recovered through the TES. However,
complaints have been made about the way the TES is calculated,
particularly by restaurants which account for some 70 per
cent of TES accounts. In 2005 the EPD sought to review the
TES to enhance the fairness of the surcharge.
The TES calculations themselves are considered
to be sound. However, the system allows for restaurants to
apply for reassessment if they have reduced the contamination
of their effluent, and these reassessments can be lengthy
and costly. Samples have to be collected over three days and
a new application made each year, putting a special burden
on smaller operators. The EPD therefore is looking into how
this process can be streamlined to reduce cost.
In addition, the department will seek the
Legislative Council's approval in 2006 to recover the full
cost of TES accounts in line with the polluter pays principle.
The intention is to increase charges gradually until full
costs are recovered.
sewage service charge per household
|Even if Hong
Kong recovers the full operating costs of sewage services, charges
will still be well below those in other major cities.
About 500 000 people in Hong Kong are
not connected to a sewerage system. Most of them live
in villages and rely on septic tanks, an ineffective
system that has resulted in continued contamination
of rivers and streams. In 2005 efforts to control village
pollution received a significant boost when the Government
allocated $1.3 billion to the problem, bringing the
total funds earmarked for improvement of village sewerage
over the past two years to $1.8 billion.
The money will link 235 000 people in
236 villages to sewers and bolster a programme that
has already connected, or is in the process of connecting,
94 000 people to sewers. The work will take some years
to complete, given the need to resolve objections and
land resumption issues and design and build the sewers,
but it should result in improvements to many rivers
and streams in the New Territories.
carries out pipe laying work for village sewers.
|Overflow from a septic tank and soakaway system.
||Swimmers enjoy the water at Castle Peak Beach, which was reopened in 2005 after continuous
water quality improvement.
Decide on the disinfection method for HATS Stage 2A.
Seek funding approval for an advance disinfection facility
to allow for early re-opening of Tsuen Wan's beaches, and plan
and design an upgrade of the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment
Works and Preliminary Treatment Works.
Initiate a pilot trial on the use of small wastewater treatment
facilities in unsewered areas.
Initiate monitoring of the planning parameters for HATS Stage
Commence village sewerage works at Ting Kau, Sham Tseng and
Commission the Ngong Ping Sewage Treatment Works, which will
produce high quality treated effluent for flushing in public
Complete an upgrade of the Siu Ho Wan Sewage Treatment Works.
Complete sewerage projects at Central, Western, Wanchai, Cha
Kwo Ling and Yuen Long.