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Water Conservancy Projects Going 'Green'

Additional funds budgeted for China's water conservancy projects will be spent in protecting water resources, rehabilitating ecosystems, ensuring drinking water security and increasing grain yields, officials have announced.

"For these purposes, water authorities will tighten up controls over investment programs on projects to be built in the years ahead and keep an eye on any construction items with potential adverse impacts on the environment," a leading water official said over the weekend.

Chen Lei, vice-minister of water resources, made it clear that his ministry will not file any applications for water projects with potential environmental issues that affect the legal interests or the livings of locals. "We will check capital spending plans for key hydropower projects to be built through relocating residents, taking over lands from them and making local ecosystems worse during their construction," Chen promised at a conference on the matter.

Addressing officials responsible for overall planning of water-control works at the conference, he urged local authorities to budget enough for residents who have to make way for construction of such projects scheduled in the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10).

He urged local governments to fully evaluate the environmental impacts of such projects while budgeting properly for them at the very beginning.

Chen was confident that doing so will be an effective way for China to help promote what he called "a positive cycle" between ongoing construction of water-control works, particularly its hydropower stations to further protect surrounding ecosystems.

"Water authorities should be fully aware of the strong public concerns about worsening environmental issues resulting from building large hydropower stations," Chen warned.

By the end of last year, next to the last year of China's 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05), more than 33.7 billion yuan (US$4.09 billion) was injected into a large number of key water-control projects with 25 billion yuan (US$3.03 billion) or over 70 per cent coming from treasury bonds.

Last year alone, over half of the money was spent on flood-control along China's major rivers, 30 per cent for water supply works and protection of water resources, over a quarter of the total used for water and soil-erosion control along with related projects to rehabilitate regional ecosystems that have worsened due to drought and water pollution.

Water conservancy projects have benefited as a priority for investment from national debt issues since 1998's devastating floods.

This year, capital spending plans for water conservation projects may be cut back as the central government plans to reduce such bond issues from last year's 110 billion yuan (US$13.37 billion) to only 80 billion yuan (US$9.72 billion) in a bid to control overheated investment of fixed assets throughout China.

However, government investment in water conservation projects will continue to be a priority as many key water-control works have to be built to back up the increase of the country's grain yields, increase incomes for farmers, ensure an ambitious scheme to divert water from the Yangtze River into the drought-plagued North, renovate many endangered large water supply and irrigation reservoirs and improve drinking water security for some 300 million rural people, said Jiao Yong, director of the department of strategic planning under Chen's ministry.

It was estimated that more than 63 million rural people in the North, Northwest and Northeast, as well as across the Huang-Huai-Hai plains, have to drink water with harmfully high fluorine content.

The health of about 2 million people has reportedly been affected by diseases related to drinking water with high arsenic content in parts of the Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Xinjiang, Ningxia and Jilin.

Under this situation, Jiao estimated that, this year, about 27 billion yuan (US$3.2 billion) will be earmarked by the central government for key water-control projects.

"Water authorities must further improve the efficiency of the funds by controlling their capital spending on projects not well prepared, optimizing the investment makeup and using them for the most important ones such as investment management on such projects by the central government will be more strictly controlled this year than ever before," Chen said.

(China Daily February 28, 2005)

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