Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Great Drought Of 1962-63: A Lesson For California

The British Colony of Hong Kong suffered a severe drought between May 1962 and early 1964.  Its water supply consisted of 15 small reservoirs constructed between 1863 and 1963, which had storage capacity of 71,217 million cubic meters.  In May 1963, storage stood at one-fifth of capacity.

Lest Hong Kong literally run out of water, the Government took a series of measures to both ration water and increase supply.


On June 2, 1963, the Government reduced water delivery to four hours every four days.  Rationing was lifted on September 1, 1964, after Typhoon Ruby helped fill the reservoirs. 


The Government closed public swimming pools, postponed surgical operations in hospitals for chronic disease, and tried to reduce water wastage.


The Government chartered a fleet of 23 tankers to sail up the Pearl River to where it could load fresh water for transport to Hong Kong.  Between June 23, 1963, and June 14, 1964, the tankers brought 429 million gallons of water to Hong Kong, almost a third of total consumption during this period.


As early as 1957, the Government had begun to connect toilets to seawater in all new houses and in selected districts.  Seawater for flushing is now provided for about 80-85 percent of all households.  


1n 1960, the Government imported 22.7 million cubic meters of water through a pipeline from the Shenzhen Reservoir in Guangdong Province.  But its reservoir was also hit by the 1962-64 drought.


In 1965, The Government arranged with Guangdong Province officials for a  massive system known as the Dongjiang (River) Water Supply to Hong Kong.  Today the system provides 70-80 percent of Hong Kong’s fresh water.


Locally, the Government built three new reservoirs that increased internal storage sevenfold.


Desalination provides up to five percent of local water generation.


Hong Kong showed that it is possible to deal with a severe drought, although at great personal hardship, for a short period of time.  Equally important, the Government took steps to increase supply to prevent a future reoccurrence.


As it happened, I lived through that drought as a Chinese language student in Hong Kong between March 1963 and January 1964.  Summer in Hong Kong is beastly, with temperature and humidity both in the nineties.  My apartment roommate and I were judicious in using water for personal hygiene, cooking, washing kitchenware, and household cleaning.  Hygiene broke down in Hong Kong with an outbreak of cholera on June 28, 1963, which required that I get a booster.


As to California, only one new reservoir, the New Melones Dam, was authorized in 1946 and completed in 1964.  That’s it.  Meanwhile the population has grown, agricultural output has increased, and urban living dramatically expanded.


We are now in a megadrought, with severe cuts in water delivery on the immediate horizon.  It is too late to fix the problem unless the legislature and governor take a lesson from Hong King.  Among their options are diverting some water from rivers that empty into the ocean to farmers and urban residents, authorize construction of new dams, consider importing water from other states, and expand desalination.


So far, California’s water authorities prefer mandatory cutbacks to increasing supply.  Unless the rains come regularly each year, California residents will have to  endure increased rationing.  So long as a strict doctrine of environmental sustainability prevails, there is little chance that government officials in California will consider any of the measures Hong Kong took to provide an abundant supply of water to its residents.

1 comment :

Charley said...

Addressing supply is one solution. Another is addressing demand. To many customers, water is very cheap and therefore much of it is wasted. With a better pricing scheme, Californians could have "enough" water for years to come.