Chinese officials and experts say the country's new project to divert water from the mighty Yangtze River to its arid north will improve the environment in northern China while facilitating sustainable economic and social development.
Zhang Jiyao, vice-minister of water resources, said the areas involved - the Huanghe River-Yellow River-Haihe River Plain and East Shandong Peninsula - faced critical water shortages and were one of the country's major grain-producing and industrial centers.
The project, which was launched Friday by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, could be described as an ecological one, with the positive impact on the areas and those near the man-made water diversion rivers outweighing the negatives.
As part of the project, 24 billion yuan, or one third of the budget for the man-made water diversion canal running through Jiangsu and Shandong provinces, have been earmarked for 379 projects designed to cut waste pollution in areas along the canal, including waste water treatment plants.
The water diversion project consists of three south-to-north canals with each running about 1,000 km across the eastern, middle and western parts of the country.
Any adverse effects on the areas the water was diverted from could be minimized or eliminated through engineering programs, said the vice-minister.
Once completed, up to 44.8 billion cubic meters of water will be diverted through three man-made channels to the north, about the annual volume of water flowing in the Yellow River in normal years.
Yuan Guolin, a senior adviser to the China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Co., said the volume of water to be diverted from the Yangtze River to the north would represent only about 5 percent of its total annual flow.
"Therefore, it will have little negative impact on the environment along the Yangtze valley," he concluded.
He dismissed the concern that silt would accumulate at the mouth of the Yangtze River due to the reduced volume of water flowing to the sea.
Wang Limin, an expert involved in planning the project, said extracting that amount of water through the Grand Canal, or principal part of the eastern water diversion channel, would be unlikely to cause an invasion of seawater into the mouth of the Yangtze River where it empties into the sea.
The Grand Canal crosses the Yangtze near the mouth of the river.
The vice-minister said China would pump any excess water in northern areas back underground during the flood season to prevent land from sinking and restore the environment after the project was completed.
In recent years, excessive pumping and unbridled industrial development have sapped the water table in an area as large as 50,000 square kilometers and dried up rivers, wells and lakes in northern China.
(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2002)