Beijing Water

Not what you bargained for: China’s massive water scheme delivering polluted goods

Brady Yauch
Probe International
July 12, 2010

While Chinese officials continue to forge ahead with an expensive scheme to move water from the Yangtze river in the south of the country to water-starved cities in the north, fears concerning its cleanliness are surfacing once again. According to a recent report, authorities are concerned over the poor water quality in the eastern leg of the South North Water Diversion  (SNWD) project.

Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun said officials have shut down thousands of polluting paper mills and breweries in order to improve the quality of the eastern route’s water. The closures come under a State Council-approved directive requiring authorities to ensure that the water meets Grade 3, the minimum standard for drinking water.

But authorities have been struggling with the polluted water for more than eight years, before construction began on the eastern route.

The eastern route will involve a series of canals, connecting a number of river systems, and will channel water, predominantly, through Jiangsu and Shandong provinces—two provinces with the worst water pollution along the route—to Tianjin, on the border of Beijing Municipality. According to this report from Water Technology, the eastern leg will span 1156 kilometres.

The director of the massive water project, Zhang Jiyao, says, “there is still a long way to go before local authorities transform the eastern route into a clean-water corridor and ensure the quality won’t decline again.”

Zhang added that, “key pollution-control facilities”—including manmade wetlands and pipelines connecting sewage treatment plants—are slated for the end of this year. According to the state-run China Daily, tests in the first quarter showed that water quality was at least Grade 3 in 23 trunk canals, or 66 percent of the sections planned for the eastern leg, south of the Yellow River.

In recent months, some local officials have expressed concern about the quality of water in the eastern leg, with the official in charge of the pollution treatment planning telling a local reporter, “from the beginning of the project, both Hebei province and Tianjin municipality said they didn’t want the water from the East Route because they were deeply concerned that it would be seriously polluted, especially the section within Shandong province.”

The entire SNWD involves three routes—eastern, central and western. Construction and relocation have started on the eastern and central routes, while the western leg is still in the planning stage.

In total, the project is expected to cost $62-billion—more than double the official estimates for the controversial Three Gorges dam—and will result in relocations of more than 330,000 citizens.

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