South-North Water Diversion Project

China postpones Yangtze water diversion scheme

Mu Lan and Grainne Ryder
Three Gorges Probe
December 11, 2008

China has postponed completion of its multi-billion dollar water transfer scheme to bring water from the Yangtze river to Beijing, citing water pollution and other environmental risks as the reason for pushing the completion date back four years, official media reported last week.


The original plan called for water to be delivered to Beijing by 2010.
But Wang Fangyu, vice director of the south-north water project leadership group in Hubei province, said they need four more years to prevent environmental problems arising from the water transfer project, Wuhan-based Yangtze Business News (Changjiang shangbao) reported on Dec 6, 2008.
“The change of plan means residents in Beijing won’t drink water from the Danjiangkou reservoir in Hubei province until 2014.”
Thousands of people have already been resettled to make way for a higher Danjiangkou dam with greater storage capacity, which Wang Fangyu said will improve flood control downstream in the Han River valley. But he also said taking water from the reservoir to Beijing will have “profound environmental impacts on Hubei province and the Han River valley.”
Another Hubei official, Zou Qingping, deputy director of the province’s environmental protection unit, said one of the biggest water quality problems right now is algae blooms. One broke out earlier this year along the Dongjing River (a tributary of the Han downstream of the Danjiangkou reservoir) and the problem will only get worse once the water transfer to Beijing gets underway. With less water in the Danjiangkou reservoir and less water available to downstream areas, the risk of algae outbreaks increases. If the blooms spread from the Han tributaries to the main channel, managing them will become even more difficult than they are now, the official said.
While south-north project officials cite environmental concerns in Hubei as the main reason for the delay, resettlement is an even thornier problem.
According to a December 8 report by the China Economic Weekly (Zhongguo jingji zhoukan) officials in Henan province (north of Danjiangkou reservoir) still need to resettle 211,000 people living along the canal which cuts north through Henan to Beijing.
Guo Guiming, vice director of Henan’s resettlement bureau, says moving so many people within just five years is an enormous challenge, especially because most people are concentrated in just one country, Xichuan. The plan calls for resettlement at a rate of more than 40,000 people per year.
Henan province has the biggest challenge of all the provinces and municipalities involved, Guo Guiming said, with “the longest stretch of canal to be built, the most land lost, the most [cultural] relics drowned, and the heaviest resettlement burden.”
The official data indicates a total of 402,000 people have to be resettled to complete the project’s central route. More than half these people live in Xichuan county, including 156,000 living around a reservoir that is set to be raised, and 55,000 living along the canal route.
Guo Guiming says compared to other big projects the five years given to move 211,000 people for the South-North project is a very short time. “It took 15 years to move one million people out of the Three Gorges reservoir area, and 13 years to move 200,000 people out of the Xiaolangdi reservoir on the Yellow River.”
A major challenge is finding enough replacement land, Mr. Guo said. Official data shows the average amount of farmland per capita is already quite small at just 0.78 mu (1mu = 1/15 ha), which means there’s very little land to spare for resettlers.
Xichuan county is one of the poorest in Henan province. About 13 percent of the total population (743,000) is living below the official poverty line – that is, earning less than US$155.7 (1,067 yuan RMB) in 2007. An estimated 35,000 residents have an average annual income less than US$127 (960 yuan RMB).
The central route of the South-North project stretches nearly 1,300 kilometres from the Danjiangkou reservoir to Beijing, covering three provinces, Hubei, Henan, and Hebei, and the municipalities of Tianjin and Beijing.
The State Council’s South-North Water Project Construction Committee first considered postponing the project in early October, Mr. Guo said, pushing the completion target for resettling people to 2013 and delivering clean water to Beijing by 2014. Despite the tremendous pressure, Mr. Guo says his government has pledged to move the people affected in a proper and timely manner.
Beijing, meanwhile, is rapidly depleting its underground water reserves and pumping water from neighbouring Hebei province, which has its own water shortage, to keep taps flowing in the capital.
A report by Probe International and a Beijing team of researchers, released earlier this year, criticized the South-North project for encouraging wasteful water consumption. The report recommends tougher regulation of Beijing’s water industry to reduce demand for new supplies – including restrictions on water-guzzling industries, enforcement of anti-pollution laws, and accurate pricing to promote conservation.
Translation by Three Gorges Probe

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