Chinese geologists have detected a large-scale underground reservoir in the country's largest desert.
The underground reservoir has a storage capacity of 36 billion cubic meters, almost the amount of the Three Gorges Reservoir under construction, said experts at the China Geological Survey Bureau (CGSV).
The amazing find in the Taklimakan Desert, or "Sea of Death", in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is big step in China's water-finding efforts in its most arid northwest.
The CGSV's preliminary data show that more than one billion cubic meters of underground water is exploitable annually from more than 50 water sources and water-rich places, the equivalent of building 10 major reservoirs in the drought-ridden area.
The geologists have also found fresh water that can be drunk directly in a 140-square meter groundwater distribution area in east Lop Nur, a renowned wilderness dubbed as the "forbidden zone of life" in Xinjiang.
China began its search for water in 1949 in the dry area and stepped up the efforts since launching the Western development drive in 2000.
Over the past two years, the country has invested some 40 million yuan (US$4.8 million) in prospecting groundwater in the northwest, where many crucial projects like the transmission of electricity and gas from west to east are being built.
"We have by and large found out the basic situation of underground water resources in the surface layers of the northwest after more than 50 years of prospecting and research," said CGSV deputy director Wang Min.
"Our findings can provide a hydrological and geological foundation for the solution of civilian, industrial and agricultural water consumption," he added.
The drought-struck northwest includes all of Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia and parts of Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi regions, accounting for one third of China's territory.
More than 10 million people out of the 90 million-plus people living in the northwest still suffer from inadequate drinking water.
In their quest for water resources, scientists have resorted to high and new technologies like remote sensing, isotope methods, ancient geology research, computer science and new drilling technology.
Well drilling by the state has resolved the problem of drinking water for about 500,000 people in the west, said Jiang Jianjun, a geology and environment official of the Ministry of Land and Resources.
Jiang added that the drilling had also encouraged local people to strive for multi-channel investment to find highly needed water.
However, water experts cautioned that the groundwater resources are still limited and the exploitation should be handled in a scientific and reasonable way.
They said it is necessary to sustain the water resource usage since the exploitation of groundwater will climb to three to 10 times the amount of its current consumption by 2010.
(Xinhua News Agency February 9, 2003)