South China Morning Post
April 19, 2006
Environmental experts have released a report warning that massive water diversion project will worsen pollution in the Han River in central China and threaten the quality of drinking water for millions of residents in Wuhan, Hubei province.
As China prepares for a massive water diversion project, environmental experts have released a report warning it will worsen pollution in the Han River in central China and threaten the quality of drinking water for millions of residents in Wuhan, Hubei province. “The diversion will reduce the annual flow of the Han River by one-third and will worsen water quality in the lower reaches of the river,” said Xie Ping, a researcher from the rivers department of Wuhan University. Mr Xie and his colleagues wrote the report after Hubei province asked them to assess the environmental impact of the project. The conclusion will increase controversy over the project and may trigger arguments during the upcoming National People’s Congress, which starts on March 5. The congress is set to debate on the project, which has been shelved for nearly half a century because of the high cost and unknown ecological impact. First planned by Mao Zedong in 1952, the south-to-north water diversion project would transfer at least 50 billion cubic metres of water from the Yangtze River to northern China through three canals.
The plan was revived last year when the worst drought in decades caused a crisis on the northern coastal plains. Earlier reports said the middle canal, which would transfer water from Danjiangkou Reservoir on the upper Han River to Beijing and Tianjin, would become a priority if the project started on target this year. China built the reservoir in the late 1950s expressly for the diversion project. Mr Shen, the chief engineer of Hubei Environment Protection Bureau, endorsed the Wuhan University report. He said the water quality in the lower Han River had deteriorated in recent years, because of lower flows and more industrial and agricultural discharges. If the Danjiangkou water goes north, he said, the Han River would have even less water to dilute pollutants. He added that the river suffered from an excess of nutrients, which kills fish and most other aquatic life.
A higher incidence of algae in recent years forced major municipal water suppliers to close down several times, affecting the water supply to three million residents of Wuhan. Mr Shen said previous feasibility studies by central Government researchers did not tell the whole truth about the grave environmental cost to Hubei province. “It did not bother to mention the algae outburst,” he said. To convince government officials the province did not have enough water for a major transfer, local leaders invited officials to see the reservoir in the middle of last year, when water levels reached critical during a drought. After the trip, the central officials agreed to review the original plan for diverting 14.6 billion cubic metres per year. But officials from Henan and Hebei provinces oppose any reduction. While Henan and Hebei want a bigger project, Shaanxi – which has lost development opportunities because of the need to protect the Han headwaters – is demanding those who take diverted water should pay for it. Shaanxi officials say protecting the headwaters has slowed economic development.