China accelerates south-north water project

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China is accelerating the construction of a massive project aimed at diverting water to meet growing demand in the parched north, project authorities said.

The south-to-north water diversion project will divert water from the Yangtze River to the dry north via three routes: eastern, middle and western.

"The construction of the south-to-north water project is going according to plan and being accelerated," according to a statement from the Office of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project Commission of the State Council (SNWDPC) on Thursday.

A number of construction projects have been completed or are near completion. By the end of March, 40.896 billion yuan (5.99 billion U.S. dollars) had been spent in constructing the middle and central routes, from the earmarked total of 90.6 billion yuan.

A tunnel on the eastern route, 70 meters below the northern section of the Yellow River, was dug through on March 25 in Shandong Province, so that water from the Yangtze River could pass under the Yellow River.

Another tunnel for the middle route will be completed in June, said Du Bingzhao, a spokesman for the SNWDPC.

The dam of Danjiangkou Reservoir which forms the border between central Hubei and Henan provinces, from which the water is channeled to the north in the middle route, has been heightened from 162 meters to 176.6 meters, increasing the water volume from 17.45 billion to 29.05 billion cubic meters, the statement said.

The old part of the dam, which was finished in 1973 after 15 years of construction, has been reinforced to cope with the increased water volume, said Tang Yuanchang, deputy general manager of a South-to-north Water Divert Project Middle Route Water Source Corporation.

According to project plans, about 180,000 people in Hubei and 150,000 people in Henan are to be relocated before the middle route is completed and water diverted to northern China in 2014.

On Tuesday, northern Hebei Province began diverting 200 million cubic meters of water from three reservoirs to Beijing via a canal that will eventually form part of the middle route of the project.

The water is expected to arrive in Tuancheng Lake in Beijing early next month. It will take about six months for all 200 million cubic meters of water to reach Beijing.

Du Bingzhao said Hebei itself is one of China's driest provinces. The province's per capita water consumption is one seventh of the national average.

"Even so, the province still has to provide water to Beijing to ease its water shortage, which showed how urgent the parched northern China is in need of water for its social and economic development. And it is also why we picked up the pace in building the south-to-north water diversion projoect," Du said.

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