South–North Water Transfer Project
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The South–North Water Transfer Project, also translated as the South-to-North Water Diversion Project (Chinese: 南水北调工程; pinyin: Nánshuǐ Běidiào Gōngchéng) is a multi-decade infrastructure mega-project in the People's Republic of China. It aims to ultimately channel 44.8 billion cubic meters of fresh water annually from the Yangtze River in southern China to the more arid and industrialized north through three canal systems:
- The Eastern Route through the course of the Grand Canal;
- The Central route flowing from the upper reaches of the Han River (a tributary of Yangtze River) to Beijing and Tianjin; and,
- The Western route which goes from three tributaries of Yangtze River near the Bayankala Mountain to provinces like Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia.
Mao Zedong had discussed an idea for mass engineering project as an answer to China's water problems as early as 1952. He reputedly said, "there's plenty of water in the south, not much water in the north. If at all possible; borrowing some water would be good." The complete project was expected to cost $62 billion – more than twice as much as the Three Gorges Dam. By 2014, more than $79 billion had been spent, making it one of the most expensive engineering projects in the world.
The Eastern Route Project (ERP) consists of an upgrade to the Grand Canal, and will be used to divert to Northern China a fraction of the total flow of the Yangtze River. According to Chinese hydrologists, the entire flow of the Yangtze at the point of its discharge into the East China Sea is, on average, 956 km3 per year; the annual flow does not fall below around 600 km3 per year even in driest years. As the project progresses, the amount of water to be diverted to the north will increase from 8.9 km3/year to 10.6 km3/year to 14.8 km3/year.
Water from the Yangtze River will be drawn into the canal in Jiangdu, where a giant 400 m³/s (12.6 billion m3/year if operated continuously) pumping station was built in the 1980s. The water is then pumped by stations along the Grand Canal and through a tunnel under the Yellow River and down an aqueduct to reservoirs near Tianjin. Construction on the Eastern route officially began December 27, 2002, and water was expected to reach Tianjin by 2012. However, water pollution has affected the viability of the route, in addition to construction delays. The route is expected to initially provide water for the provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui, with trial operations to begin in mid-2013. As of early 2013 no date has been set for when the water would reach Tianjin. Tianjin is expected to receive 1 billion m3/year. The Eastern route is not expected to supply Beijing, which is to be supplied by the central route.
The completed line will be slightly over 716 miles (1,152 km) long, equipped with 23 pumping stations with a power capacity of 454 megawatts.
An important element of the Eastern Route will be a tunnel crossing under the Yellow River, on the border of Dongping and Dong'e Counties of Shandong Province. The crossing will consist of two 9.3 m diameter horizontal tunnels, positioned 70 m under the riverbed of the Yellow River.
Due to the topography of the Yangtze Plain and the North China Plain, pumping stations would be needed to raise water from the Yangtze to the Yellow River crossing; farther north, the water will be flowing downhill in an aqueduct.
The central, or middle, route is from Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han river, a tributary of the Yangtse River, to Beijing. The project involves raising the height of the Danjiangkou dam (increasing the dam crest elevation from 162 m to 176.6 m above the sea level), in order to raise the water level in the reservoir from 157 to 170 m above the sea level.
The middle route is built on the North China Plain. The canal is to be constructed so that water can flow all the way from the Danjiangkou Reservoir to Beijing by gravity, without the need for pumping stations. The main engineering challenge is to build a tunnel under the Yellow River. Construction on the central route began in 2004. In 2008 the 307 km-long northern stretch of the central route was completed at a cost of US$2 billion. Water in that stretch of the canal does not come from the Han River but from reservoirs in Hebei Province, south of Beijing. Farmers and industries in Hebei had to cut back water consumption to allow for water to be transferred to Beijing.
The whole project was expected to be completed around 2010. This has recently been set back to 2014 to allow for more environmental protections to be built. A problem is the influence on the Han River (below the Danjiangkou Dam), from which approximately 1/3 of the water is diverted. One long-term consideration is to build another canal to divert water from the Three Gorges Dam to Danjiangkou Reservoir.
Another major difficulty is the resettlement of around 330,000 persons near Danjiangkou Reservoir and along the route of the canal. On October 18, 2009, Chinese officials began to relocate residents from the areas of the Hubei and Henan provinces that will be affected by the reservoir. The completed line will be approximately 1,264 km long, initially providing 9.5 km3 of water annually. By 2030, it is expected to increase its water transfer to 12 to 13 km3 annually, although in dry years the annual transferred amount will be less (at least 6.2 km3, with 95% guarantee rate).
Industries are prohibited to locate in the watershed of the reservoir to keep its water drinkable.
The western route, called the Big Western Line, is in the planning stage. It aims to divert water from the headwaters of the Yangtze River (the Tongtian, Yalong and Dadu Rivers) into the headwaters of the Yellow River. To move the water through the drainage divide between these rivers, huge dams and long tunnels are needed to cross the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and Western Yunnan Plateaus. This route is designed to bring 3.8 billion m3 of water from three tributaries of the Yangtze River about 450 km across the Bayankala Mountains to northwest China. The Tongtian diversion line would be 289 km long, the Yalong 131 km, and the Dadu 30 km. The feasibility of this route is under study; this project won't start in the near future. Environmentalists have raised concerns about potential flooding. The respective rivers are entirely within China.
In addition, there are long-standing plans to divert about 200 billion cubic metres of water annually from the upstream sections of six rivers in southwestern China, including the Mekong (Lancang River), the Yarlung Zangbo (called Brahmaputra further downstream) and the Salween (Nu River), to the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and ultimately to the dry areas of northern China through a system of reservoirs, tunnels and natural rivers. The project was considered too immense and costly to be undertaken at the time. The respective rivers are transboundary and a diversion would affect India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Construction costs of the eastern and central routes was estimated to be 254.6 billion yuan ($37.44 billion) in 2008. The government had budgeted only 53.87 billion yuan ($7.9 billion), less than a quarter of the total cost, at that time, including 26 billion from the central government and special accounts, 8 billion from local governments and almost 20 billion in loans. As of 2008, around 30 billion yuan had been spent for the construction of the eastern (5.66 billion yuan) and central routes (24.82 billion yuan). Costs of the projects have significantly increased.
Opponents object to it on the grounds that it is a waste of resources; it could create a large number of migrant people; it could waste massive amounts of water through evaporation and pollution; the project's huge cost would make the water prohibitively expensive for consumers; the dry season could cause the Yangtze River to suffer from water shortages; it would be detrimental to the Yangtze River's transportation; and it could cause an environmental disaster. Additionally, some villagers being relocated for the central route claim they were forced to sign relocation agreements.
In the summer of 2013, complaints arrived from the fish farmers on the Dongping Lake (on the project's Eastern Route, in Shandong), reporting that the polluted Yangtze River water entering the Dongping Lake is killing their fish.
Government officials and defenders of the project claim the Yangtze River has a plentiful supply of water, with 96% of the water currently flowing into the Pacific Ocean. They argue that transferring one portion to the poorly irrigated areas of the north could solve the north's water scarcity issue.
- Water resources of China
- Meng Xuenong, the project's deputy director 2003-07
- Irtysh–Karamay–Ürümqi Canal, in Xinjiang
- Northern river reversal project in the Soviet Union
- This is the English translation preferred by the official web site, http://www.nsbd.gov.cn/zx/english/
- 南水北调工程. Xinhua Net (in Chinese). 2002-12-27. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- Wang, Yue (2014-02-20). "Chinese Minister Speaks Out Against South-North Water Diversion Project". Forbes Asia. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- Jaffe, Aaron; Keith Schneider (1 March 2011). "A Dry and Anxious North Awaits China’s Giant, Unproven Water Transport Scheme". Circle of Blue. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- Wong, Edward (2011-06-01), "Plan for China’s Water Crisis Spurs Concern", The New York Times
- The quote is given as “南方水多，北方水少，如有可能，借一点也是可以的” in 作家作品：毛泽东与南水北调 (Mao Zedong and the South-to-North Water Diversion Project), by Jin HUaichun (靳怀堾), at the project's official web site.
- South-to-North Water Diversion Project, China, Water-Technology.net, September 2008. Also archived here
- Eastern Route Project (ERP), on the official project site; includes the map. (As one can see from the context, "956 million m3" on that page is apparently a typo for "956 billion m3".
- "Desalination: Costly drops". The Economist. 9 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
- Middle Route Project (MRP), at the project's official site
- China's water-diversion scheme: A shortage of capital flows, The Economist, October 11, 2008, p. 61
- The Inquirer, Philadelphia: China to resettle 330,000 people, 19 October 2010
- Al Jazeera English: China plans for future supply of clean water, 11 August 08
- Simons, Craig (2006-09-10). "In China, A Water Plan Smacks Of Mao". Cox News Service. Archived from the original on 2007-09-11. Retrieved 2011-01-22.
- Craig Simmons. "Solving the Entire Chinese Water Crisis", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via The Progress Report. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
- Chinese Water Diversion Project Kills Fish on Test Run, 2013-07-08
- Official Website: 中国南水北调 (in Chinese) / South-to-North Water Diversion (in English)
- RitchieWiki: South-North Water Transfer Project
- CNN: Thirsty China to divert the mighty Yangtze, 15 November 2001
- Water industry article
- New York Times: Beneath Booming Cities, China’s Future Is Drying Up, 28 September 2007
- New York Times: Map of South-North Project