August 1, 2006
China is considering a 300-billion-yuan (US$37.5 billion) plan to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze River to the Yellow River to help the thirsty northwestern areas.
China is considering a 300-billion-yuan (US$37.5 billion) plan to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze River to the Yellow River to help the thirsty northwestern areas. Li Guoying, head of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission under the Ministry of Water Resources, unveiled the plan at a press conference in Beijing yesterday. Li said the western route of the South-to-North Water Transfer Project will use 300 kilometers of tunnels and channels drilled through mountains to divert water from the Yalong, Dadu and Jinsha Rivers (all tributaries of the Yangtze that flow from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau into southwest China) to the upper reaches of the Yellow River. The timetable for the western route has not been nailed down, but the project is planned to be built in three phases.
The first phase will transfer 4 billion cubic meters of water a year to the Yellow River and the completed project will divert 17 billion cubic meters. “When the economic and social development of the northwest reaches a certain level and the potential for water saving is exhausted, this project will be launched,” Li said. Building the tunnels could be one of modern China’s most technically challenging feats and will cost more than the US$25 billion Three Gorges dam, officials say. Yet they say it’s an essential link in a vast system of water transfer from the abundant rivers in the south to the parched north and northwest. Despite this year’s unusually heavy rain, northern China has had decades of drought, and underground water tables have rapidly depleted. Liu Changming, a hydrologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said construction could start as early as 2010. It would involve harnessing rivers cascading from the Tibetan highlands to quench Qinghai Province and other poor western areas. Liu said planners would carefully calibrate flows to ensure the source rivers remained viable. Li said the Yellow River, one of the north’s main waterways and China’s second longest river, is shrinking because of rising demand for water. The western route of the 500-billion-yuan South-North Water Transfer Project will join the central and eastern routes, already under construction, that will draw water from the much larger Yangtze River to ease shortages in Beijing and elsewhere. Two-thirds of China’s 600 cities have water shortages, including 108 with serious shortfalls, Li said. Parts of the Yellow River dried up 21 times from 1971 to 1999. Li said measures to protect water sources and control the total volume used by cities along the Yellow River have prevented the river drying up over the past seven years. The conservancy commission yesterday began to implement regulations to control the water volume of the river.