China’s South-North Water Diversion Project

Every large city needs a constant supply of fresh water to satisfy its
citizens; Beijing is no different. Beijing, which recently hosted the Olympic
and Para-Olympic Games, is a city of approximately 16 million people and growing
rapidly; current projections estimate that by 2010 there will be over 17 million
residents. While normally news about a city expanding is met with enthusiasm,
Beijing’s water supply can only support about 14 million. Complicating the matter is
the fact that Beijing is in the dry north and the surrounding province of Hebei has
been locked in a drought since 1999; since that time, the region has only received
about 75 percent of the anticipated precipitation.
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China’s South-North Water Diversion Project

Every large city needs a constant supply of fresh water to satisfy its citizens;
Beijing is no different. Beijing, which recently hosted the Olympic and Para-Olympic
Games, is a city of approximately 16 million people and growing rapidly; current
projections estimate that by 2010 there will be over 17 million residents.
While normally news about a city expanding is met with enthusiasm, Beijing’s
water supply can only support about 14 million. Complicating the matter is the
fact that Beijing is in the dry north and the surrounding province of Hebei has
been locked in a drought since 1999; since that time, the region has only received
about 75 percent of the anticipated precipitation.

Beijing Relative to Hebei Province
Northern China, the industrial heart of the nation, has a much lower rainfall
than the southern reaches of China and its rivers are beginning to run dry.
Over the past 20 years, the Yellow River has often gone dry in its lower reaches
and some smaller rivers are now dried out most of the year. Beijing has worked
with Hebei Province to supply the city with water, but there just isn’t enough
water to be had. In fact, areas of Hebei are showing evidence of subsidence
due to the drain on groundwater reserves. At the heart of the problem is that
the entire region is historically dry. Mao once noted, “Southern water is plentiful,
northern water scarce.”

Long Term Vision

Beijing has long been aware of the critical need to supply its growing population.
Beijing undertook a massive water project called the South to North Water
Diversion Project. First envisioned in the 1950’s, the project was started a few
years ago; it is estimated that the project will complete in 2050. The project is
divided into three major routes, the Eastern Route, the Central Route and the
Western Route.

China’s South-North Water Diversion Project
The project’s eastern route, diverting water northward from the Yangtze River
through a tunnel burrowed beneath the Yellow River, will see an expansion of
the 1,600-km Imperial Grand Canal; at the culmination of the project, the Grand
Canal will be the world’s longest aqueduct. The 1,200-km-long central route
will also tunnel under the Yellow River. The most ambitious part of this project
is to divert river waters cascading from the Tibetan highlands. This is a technically
challenging phase and it includes a series of canals and tunnels along a 1,215-km
route bisecting the eastern Tibetan Plateau to connect the upper reaches of the
Yangtze with the upper reaches of the Yellow. The tunnels would have to be cut
through the earthquake-prone Bayankala Mountains.

In the Tibetan plateau, China’s South-North Project calls initially for building
300 km of tunnels and channels to draw waters from the Jinsha, Yalong and
Dadu rivers, located on the eastern rim of the plateau. The possible diversion
of the Brahmaputra waters northward is to come later. The idea of diverting
portions of the Brahmaputra is controversial – this may adversely affect the
dry-season availability of Brahmaputra waters downstream in India and Bangladesh
while increasing wet-season flooding.

It would appear that China has an ambitious plan to quench the thirst of its
people but it also appears that China must work with its neighbors to the south
and west so that an equitable and sustainable agreement can be reached.
If such an agreement were reached, it would certainly be historic and could lead
to the long term prosperity of the entire region.

UN- WORLD WATER DEVELOPMENT REPORT

A REVIEW OF THE UNITED NATIONS WORLD WATER DEVELOPMENT REPORT

The third edition of the United Nations World Water Development
Report (WWDR) was presented at the World Water Forum in Istanbul,
Turkey on March 16, 2009. Taking a more in-depth approach than the
two previous reports, the WWDR focuses on four major elements: the
drivers of change, the use of water for humans and for ecosystems,
the state of the water in the world, and options for responding to a changing
world.

In examining the drivers – or the influences that put pressure on water
resources – the WWDR reminds readers that most human activities have
the potential to exert pressure on water resources and need to be managed.
Specifically, the world’s population is increasing by approximately 80 million
people per year; this means that even more fresh water is needed when today it
is a luxury in most of the world. Additionally, the rapid global rise in living
standards combined with population growth presents a major threat to the
sustainability of human population growth. This is based on the fact that as
populations move from subsistence living to agricultural or industrial societies,
their water needs increase. Improved sanitation, improved access to drinking
water and improved agriculture – all are welcome changes in the developing
world, but all draw more heavily on water.

In the section examining the use of water in our world, the report outlines
the major end-uses of fresh water, the trends behind those uses and the
impact of water scarcity on society as reflected though the end uses.
Agriculture is of course primary on the list; agriculture, by far, is the most
water-intensive human activity. Of course, without agriculture there would
be famine and as such, sacrifices from other areas may have to be made to
sustain our global food supply. On the other hand, advances in low-water
agriculture may help “give back” some of the water now devoted to this
important human endeavor. Also noted in the report are water demands
for energy, health, industry and the environment. Lastly, the report notes
that social efforts to eradicate poverty consume water. We often don’t think
of this when we engage in altruistic efforts to raise the quality of life for
people around the globe but we are, in fact, increasing the strain on the
world’s fresh water supply systems when we do this. The report certainly
commends the efforts of anti-poverty crusaders around the world, but it
does caution that water resource planning should be a top priority for these
efforts, not an afterthought.

In the third major section, the WWDR examines the state of the world’s
water and spends significant time addressing the changing threats and
emerging opportunities that could affect the world’s water. Citing climate
change as a factor, the report notes that droughts have become more
frequent and more persistent in the past few decades. Additionally, the
“over abundance” of water in the form of typhoons, floods and other
disasters have displaced millions in the past few years. Rarely do we
hear about an opportunity coming from climate change, but the report offers
one: with improved water efficiency and distribution, the earth could become
a greener, more verdant planet.

The effect of climate change on the world’s vegetation
The effect of climate change on the world’s vegetation –
two possible scenarios.

The models above are the composite results of 5 different modeling scenarios
and show that, on the whole, a warmer world could be a more productive
world from an agricultural standpoint. The barrier between the present and
that world is water distribution; if that can be improved modestly, the positive
impact on societies around the globe could be enormous.

In the last major element of the report, the WWDR analyzes the options that
lay before us in responding to water needs in the world. The report encourages
“outside the water box” thinking such as incentivizing conservation and
large-scale regional planning rather than simply addressing issues at the
community level. The WWDR also levels constructive criticism at
governments and planning bodies for allowing corruption to become so
widespread in the water industry around the globe; it suggests that by
simply improving transparency many of these problems will fix themselves.
By taking a frank look at governments’ roles in policies and planning, the report
urges policy makers to consider water development planning as a primary step
in any process – rather than a minor detail that can be decided later.

All in all, the report paints a picture of a world in flux; not all outcomes
are determined. Some roads lead to increased water scarcity and turmoil
while others lead to an improved, more productive world. Our future can
be a bright one if we choose it to be. The full report can be accessed here:

http://webworld.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/wwdr3/pdf/WWDR3_Water_in_a_Changing_World.pdf