Yangtze water not a cure-all for Beijing's thirst

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Beijing is looking to water from the Yangtze River to ease its drought, but experts say the ambitious south-to-north water diversion project is not a cure-all for the capital's thirst.

The landmark middle route of the 500-billion-yuan (81-billion U.S.-dollar) project started supplying water to Beijing Friday.

It will pump 9.5 billion cubic meters of water each year from the Danjiangkou reservoir in central China's Hubei Province to the northern provinces of Hebei and Henan as well as Beijing and Tianjin, benefiting some 100 million people.

About 1.05 billion cubic meters of water from the Hanjiang River, the Yangtze's largest tributary, will be running from Beijingers' taps each year through 1,400 km of pipelines and canals.

The flow of Yangtze water to Beijing is a decades-old dream dating back to Mao Zedong's days as leader.


The Yangtze water will make up a third of Beijing's total supply and will hopefully narrow the huge gap between its annual water demand and supply.

With Yangtze water piped in, Beijing will have 150 cubic meters per person, an increase of 50 percent, according to figures provided by the Beijing water authority.

It said the Chinese capital's per capita water volume is currently 100 cubic meters, only 1.25 percent of the world's average level.

Beijing needs at least 3.6 billion cubic meters of water a year to supply its 20 million residents and to keep local businesses running, but its own water supply was only 2.1 billion cubic meters annually in the past decade.

"So the city is facing a severe water crisis," said Xu Xinyi, a water conservancy specialist with Beijing Normal University. "It's like five people stuffed into a room designed for two."

The gap in Beijing's water supply is filled by ground water and water diverted from neighboring provinces.

As a result of over-exploitation, Beijing's underground water level has declined by 12.8 meters from 1998 levels. The chain reaction has included land subsidence and vegetation damage, said Zhang Tong, deputy president of Beijing Institute of Water.

"A strong gale this summer felled more than 5,000 trees," he said.

Pumping in Yangtze water is an effective way to ease Beijing's water crisis. "About half of the water Beijingers consume used to come from underground," said Zhang. "With Yangtze water diverted to Beijing, underground water will make up only 30 percent of total consumption."

This, he said, will ease the pressure on Beijing's environment and prevent underground water levels from dropping too fast.

"It's also an internationally accepted practice for solving water shortages in densely populated regions," said Zhang.

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