August 2, 2006
China has launched what it said was its toughest water management program for the Yellow River in a bid to stem rampant over-exploitation along the nation’s second longest waterway.
Water extraction from the Yellow River is to come under State regulation, to ensure no sections in the lower reaches of the river dry up. The government hopes the arrangement will allow China’s second longest waterway to satisfy consumer and commercial demand, without the water level falling too low. The government also plans to divert water from the Yangtze, the country’s longest river, to support industrial and agricultural growth in parched northwestern parts of China. The new plans were unveiled yesterday by Li Guoying, chief of the Yellow River Conservancy Committee under the Ministry of Water Resources, marking the implementation of a State Council ordinance to regulate and control the water level of the Yellow River. The ordinance is the first of its kind regulating water use for China’s biggest rivers, Li told a news briefing held by the State Council Information Office in Beijing. “The statute guarantees we will make sure the lower reaches of the Yellow River will not dry up in the future,” said Li.
For nearly three decades the mighty river has often slowed to a trickle, even drying up on some occasions, before it reaches areas such as Shandong Province in East China. The low water level is mostly caused by a drastic increase in water demand in the river’s upper and middle reaches, plus a lack of regulations regarding the allocation and adequate use of river water. Parts of the river were dry 21 times between 1972 and 1999, with a “serious impact” on economic and social development in the lower reaches of the river, according to Li. But since 1999 the river has not run dry, thanks partly to a system under which local government chiefs have been held responsible for the use of water diverted from the river. In addition, a set of catchments has been built along the river and companies have been encouraged to invest in leak-proof irrigation channels for farmers, said Li. He said the new ordinance builds on these experiences, with a view to easing stresses and strains in the water supply, and promoting ecological and environmental conservation.
As China unfolds its western development programme, more and more industrial projects will be launched, making water need a thorny issue, Li conceded. The western route of the massive South-North Water Transfer Project is one solution, he said. The ambitious water diversion project was initiated in 2002, and should one day carry 44.8 billion cubic metres of water annually from the Yangtze through eastern, middle and western routes to water-scarce north. The eastern and middle routes are under construction, and are expected to cost 200 billion yuan (US$25 billion) to complete, Li said, adding that both routes would pass through tunnels beneath the Yellow River and thus will not cause water shrinkage problems to the river. Water diverted through the middle route could reach Beijing by 2008, he said. As for the western route, there is no timetable for when construction will start, but Li said it will be built in three stages and estimated it would cost at least 300 billion yuan (US$37.5 billion). “When the economic and social development of the northwest reaches a certain level and the potential of water saving measures is exhausted, this (Western Route of the South-North) project will be launched,” he said.