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South-North water transfer project not sustainable, says Chinese official

The project would be unnecessary if Beijing alone could save more water, says Chinese official in rare public criticism

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"If we try to solve our water crisis by diverting water, then new ecological problems will emerge," says Chinese official Qiu Baoxing (Image by International Rivers)

The US$62 billion South-North Water Transfer Project would be rendered irrelevant if one-third of buildings in Beijing could collect more rainwater and recycle more wastewater, according to a Chinese ministerial official.

The remarks made by Qiu Baoxing, vice minister of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, in the February issue of Water & Wastewater Engineering, represents a rare government opinion against one of China’s greatest engineering feats. Construction of the diversion project, which officially started in 2002, is considered controversial for its high cost, environmental impact and massive displacement of local population.

The vast water diversion scheme consists of three canal systems, with the eastern route already supplying water to Shandong province in December.

“As the scale of the project gets bigger and the distance gets longer, it is more and more difficult to divert water,” Qiu writes.

“Recycled water could replace diverted water. Most Chinese cities are capable of finding more water if we develop water desalination technology and collect more rain water,” he adds.

According to Qiu, the diversion project has also resulted in new pollution along its routes. He says diverted water has led to the leaking of residues in local pipelines, a problem that is “very difficult” to solve.

China is already grappling to clean up serious pollution along the central route of the diversion project, which is designed to start operation in 2014.

The Danjiangkou Reservoir, at the start of the central route, located in central China’s Hubei province, is badly polluted as the five rivers flowing into it are routinely used as dumping grounds for untreated sewage by local industries, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection acknowledged in November.

“China tries to solve its water shortage problem by diverting water, but such a way is, to some extent, now mired in difficulties,” Qiu writes.

Qiu also warns that there will be more water crisis in China if it sticks to the South-North Water Diversion Project. He says China is now in a “critical” period to address water pollution issues as the country continues to urbanise.

“If we miss the opportunity to repair water ecology, we will pay dearly,” he writes. “If we try to solve our water crisis by diverting water, then new ecological problems will emerge. This is not sustainable at all.” 

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匿名 | Anonymous

真的利大于弊吗?

南水北调一直以来争议不断。现在已经不是当年人定胜天的思想了,就算是经过了多次论证也无法充分模拟调水后的实际状态,就像外国之前为模拟人造生态系统所做的实验,在一个封闭的空间内打造一个小型的生命循环系统,在维持不到一两年的时间里宣告失败。
这么庞大的工程,用什么样的模型能够充分模拟他的状态呢?每一个变量,每一个时间段,所有相关的人、社会组织(工厂、市政、家庭、运输工具)都会影响水生态中动物、植物、土壤的变化。
希望政府谨慎而为,谨慎再谨慎。