The long-awaited South-to-North water diversion project kicked off Friday to bring relief to China's drought-ridden north.
It took 50 years of planning to get to this starting point, and the project is expected to take another 50 years to be completed.
The massive project is expected to require investment of about 486 billion yuan (about US$59 billion), twice as much as the cost of the Three Gorges Dam project.
The cities suffering severe water shortage are mostly located in the parched north of China, while the south is always affluent in water resources.
In the 1950's, the late chairman Mao Zedong who was also the founder of the People's Republic of China, for the first time conceived of bringing water from the country's south to north.
And so after 50 years of research and discussion, the overall program for the water transfer project was approved in principle by the State Council on Aug. 23, 2002.
According to the program, China will build three man-made rivers, all more than 1,000 km in length, to act as the eastern, central and western division lines.
The three diversion lines will link together four of China's seven major rivers, namely the Yangtze, Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe rivers.
Once the massive project is completed, a total of 44.8 billion cubic meters of water will be annually channeled from the Yangtze to the north of China.
This water volume is nearly equal to the total water volume of the Yellow River, China's second longest river located in the north.
The 1,156-km eastern diversion line, the first of the three lines to undergo construction, will flow along the Grand Canal, China's ancient man-made water project whose earliest construction began in the year 605, and will include 51 pumping stations and massive dredging from Yangzhou City in Jiangsu Province to Hebei and Shandong provinces.
The central line will run to the Beijing-Tianjin region and so far the Danjiangkou Reservoir dam has been raised so water would then naturally flow northward toward Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, where it will have to travel through a man-made tunnel under the Yellow River toward Beijing.
The Danjiangkou Reservoir, as the starting point of the central division line, is located in central China's Hubei Province and at the Hanjiang River, one of the Yangtze's branches.
The western line, intended to bring water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze to the upper reaches of the Yellow River, was recently decided to start construction in 2010, ten years prior to the original plan, as it is expected to play an important role in China's Go-West Campaign.
Huang Lixin, director of the water resources bureau of Jiangsu Province said the south-north water diversion will basically solve the severe water shortage in north China.
In this way, the ecological environment will be remarkably improved and the country will more easily maintain a sustainable social and economic development.
An analysis offered by the water resources bureau shows that once the initial phases of the eastern and central diversion lines are completed, they will bring an increased annual direct economic return of 55.3 billion yuan.
Huang also urged that despite the water transfer project, people should still economize on water to avoid investment and water resources waste.
Meanwhile, prevention and alleviation of water pollution in the Yangtze should be taken as a priority to ensure the diverted water is clean.
In addition, a fair price will be set on the basis of market principle when the water is transferred to the north, Huang added.
(Xinhua News Agency December 27, 2002)