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Fake Snow for China Olympics Needs 49 Million Gallons of Water

Aug. 16, 2019, 4:01 AM

China has an ambitious plan for how it will get enough water to create fully fake snow for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Most of the outdoor Olympics events will happen in the normally parched mountains in the Zhangjiakou and Yanqing areas, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Beijing, which receive only about 7 to 8 inches of snow a year.

The country estimates that it will need around 186,000 cubic meters of water (49 million gallons) for snow-making during outdoor events like downhill skiing, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding.

In considering Beijing’s bid for the games, which will take place Feb. 2-20, 2022, the International Olympic Committee flagged water issues as one of the chief concerns, saying they believed Beijing “underestimated the amount of water that would be needed for snowmaking for the Games” and “overestimated the ability to recapture water used for snowmaking.”

A 60-page plan that the National Development and Reform Commission released Aug. 6 outlines lays out both short- and long-term targets to prepare Zhangjiakou for the games and the influx of thousands of spectators and athletes who are expected to increase supply pressures on the use of water for drinking, artificial snow, and wastewater treatment.

100% Artificial Snow

Artificial snow has been used to varying degrees since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Beijing’s plan aims to reduce water loss from surface runoff and control the volume of water into Beijing, as well as water quality in the Baihe and Yongding rivers, making them safe for drinking through 2022.

“Zhangjiakou is upstream of Beijing and an essential supply of water to the megacity that already has serious water planning issues,” Deng Tingting, a Beijing-based toxics campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia, said Aug. 9. “A decrease in water quality in Zhangjiakou would bring risk to Beijing.”

The region should also reduce its reliance on water-intensive and polluting heavy industries such as coal, iron, and steel, and help the environment by generating funding through tourism and adopting more clean energy systems, according to the plan.

“It’s a clear signal that Beijing understands water-nomic development—that economic planning should be based on the ecological boundary rather than the municipal boundary,” said Debra Tan, head of Hong Kong-based think tank China Water Risk.

For the long term, the plan calls for protecting the watershed with more forest coverage in the Zhangjiakou area to provide water for both Beijing and the Xiong’an New Area, a new city being built to the south of the capital that is expected to be completed in 2035.

The Beijing Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee didn’t respond to questions seeking comment on Beijing’s latest preparation plans.

Speaking about the city’s broader preparations, IOC Coordination Commission Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch said last month that “Beijing 2022 is delivering on its vision to engage 300 million people in winter sports, and we can see real benefits resulting from the various actions that are being undertaken across the country.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China, at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Jean Fogarty at jfogarty@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com

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