Water crisis: China – the “South to North Water Diversion Project” – a disaster waiting to happen?

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China water diversion: Part 1 of 2 – 2010

Note by Admin. Save the Water™ : What is the South–North Water Transfer Project?

The South–North Water Transfer Project is a multi-decade infrastructure project of the People’s Republic of China to better utilize water resources available to China. This is to be achieved through the South North Water Diversion Project (SNWD). Whilst the main thrust is to divert water from the Yangtze River to the Yellow River and Hai River, other spin-off plans are also loosely included. Amongst these, a controversial plan calling for the capture and diversion of water from Brahmaputra River, located in Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon north of India, has been under study for years. This is because heavily industrialized Northern China has a much lower rainfall and its rivers are running dry. Already the Yellow River has often gone dry in its lower reaches in recent decades and some of the Hai River tributaries almost dried out throughout the year. Supply and demand conditions have often changed more rapidly than the project plans’ ability to accommodate the changes, resulting in much higher costs and reduced benefits. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) See STW™ Vol V 457 Part 2 for more history.


The “South-North Water Diversion Project”– a disaster waiting to happen?

The South-North Water Diversion Project: AsianInfrastructure.com

Arguably the biggest infrastructure project in history, the South-North Water Diversion Project (or the South-to-North Water Transfer Project) is a US$62 billion attempt to divert water from the Yangtze River in the south to the dry rivers of the north, which is currently facing water shortages.

The plan will see eight trillion gallons of water a year pumped through two 800-mile-long channels in order to relieve water shortages in the north of the country. Even this may not be enough though, and the Chinese government is considering a third tunnel.

The project has been described as a “plumbing project of unprecedented complexity, equivalent to diverting a major European river such as the Danube or the Thames to the opposite side of the continent”, but as well as the daunting physical logistics involved the potential impact of the scheme could hold serious implications for the future of the region.

Taming nature

The project has already drawn controversy due to the fact that over half a million people are being forced out of their homes to make way for the project, but environmental groups have warned that the project could cause vast damage to the country.

Citing China’s last megaproject as an example, the groups have said the Three Gorges Dam has been responsible for landslides and earthquakes in the region due to its sheer size. They have also pointed out that the region is now heavily polluted and some scientists have even theorized that the dam’s presence could have caused the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008 that killed 68,000 people.

However the most disturbing news is, like Three Gorges Dam, the hydro-engineering project has become so contaminated by pollution (see timeline article) that the water being pumped is barely usable. cont’d below

[toggle title=” Timeline: region now heavily polluted ” height=”auto”]

Pollution means China’s thirst can’t be quenched – no matter what is spent

A 50-year plan to divert the course of the Yangtze, Asia’s mightiest river – to solve droughts and shortages is falling foul of costly pollution clean-up plans

Guardian.co.uk / /Friday 9 July 2010

China’s biggest hydro-engineering project – the £39bn South-North Water Diversion Project, is so contaminated by pollution despite the construction of more than 400 expensive treatment plants that water remains barely usable even after treatment, reports revealed this week.

The South-North Water Diversion Project, is a hugely ambitious, 50-year project that aims to solve the country’s worsening drought problems with three giant channels that will divert part of the Yangtze river towards the thirsty cities and factories around Beijing.

Contamination levels are so high along much of the eastern leg – which runs along the Grand Canal – that the water is barely usable even after treatment. Almost all of the 426 pollution control projects have been completed, but the director of the project, Zhang Jiyao told the local media this week that there was a long way to go before water quality could be assured.

This raises the prospect of further delays and costs for a project that began in 2002 and was supposed to have been operational more than three years ago. Domestic media predicted earlier this year that it would not open until 2013.

It also highlights the severity of the pollution along the coastal manufacturing belt. Despite the closure of thousands of paper mills, breweries, chemical factories and other potential sources of contamination, the water quality along a third of the waterway falls far below even the modest standards that the government requires.

The city of Tianjin – which was supposed to have been the main beneficiary of the water diversion – is already making alternative plans and building desalination plants to meet its water needs.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that planners either massively underestimated the cost of the clear-up or that local governments have skimped on taking the necessary measures.

It is a similar story for the Three Gorges Dam, which is also plagued by poor water quality. Zhang Lijun, the vice minister of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, complained that algae blooms are becoming more common as the reservoir stagnates. Local officials say they lack the funds to build treatment plants.

These two giant projects could be plumbed together if, as predicted, water from the Three Gorges reservoir is needed to supplement southern rivers depleted by the diversion project.

The government’s principal concern is quantity, not quality. The falling water table on the North China plain is a priority, not least because it threatens the capital Beijing and some of the nation’s main agricultural centres. Water shortages were deemed so critical last month that the authorities announced the diversion of 200m cubic meters of water from Hebei’s farm-fields to quench Beijing’s thirst.

Populations are also being diverted. This month, the authorities moved ahead with the biggest relocation in the South-North project so far – of 60,000 people in Henan.

By the time the middle-leg of the South-North project is completed in 2013, the government estimates 345,000 people will have to be resettled and compensated.

Given the persistent pollution concerns and the increasingly unstable climate, even these radical measures will solve northern China’s water woes. But this big ticket item looks set to add further to the growing economic bill for environmental restoration.

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cont’d: The North-South Diversion Project currently has 400 treatment plants working on the problem but water quality is still said to be incredibly low, highlighting the pollution problem of China’s manufacturing belt. It has led to speculation by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, amongst others, that “planners either massively underestimated the cost of the clear-up or that local governments have skimped on taking the necessary measures.”

If these problems weren’t enough there is also a concern that diverting such a large portion of the Yangtze River could in turn lead to water shortages in the south.

With all these factors in the 50-year engineering project being highlighted, one can’t help but feel China’s drive for quantity over quality will either see them relieve their country’s water issues or devastate it further. [toggle title=”Three Gorges Dam Infographic” height=”auto”]

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