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Water diversion project runs into problems

Shanghai Daily, July 29, 2014 Adjust font size:

Water quality on the Hanjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze and a major component in an ambitious project to divert water to drought-prone areas in the north of the country, is dropping even before the project begins.

The south-to-north water diversion project, the largest of its kind, is designed to take water from the south via eastern, middle and western routes.

The Hanjiang, in central China's Hubei Province, will play a key role in the middle route by suppling the Danjiangkou Reservoir, which is planned to quench the thirst of Beijing and about 20 other northern cities after this year's flood season.

However, a report in yesterday's Beijing News said that the river is itself in need of water after successive years of drought in upstream areas of northwest China's Shaanxi Province had led to a decrease in water levels.

But the river still needs to feed the reservoir to ensure it stores enough water for a test run of the middle route, the newspaper said.

Li Guodong, director of the project's coordinating office in Xiangyang, the first city downstream from the reservoir, told the paper they had expected an impact on the local eco-system, irrigation facilities and fishing industry after the project began but the effects were already becoming apparent.

In some sections of the Hanjiang, water seems to have stopped flowing and there has been an increase in the amount of algae. Under such conditions, fish can't lay their eggs and pollutants can't be flushed away.

Usually, female fish would finish laying their eggs before June, but this year many are still carrying their eggs.

"The fish could have laid their eggs if the water flow had been a little bit stronger," said Cai Yanzhi, an expert at the Wuhan aquatic research institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Water from Danjiangkou started to feed into a pipeline on July 3 on a trial basis, and the route will be formally put into use after Hanjiang's flood season is over.

At that time, the river will transport 9.5 billion cubic meters of water, causing the Xiangyang section of Hanjiang to see its water level fall by an estimated 21 percent.

It is bad news for the local environment. The factories can't just simply process the chemical waste because the river can't clean itself by depending on huge water flows any longer.

Xiangyang has set higher environmental protection standards.

As a result, 97 factories will be shut and 43,000 people will lose their jobs, the paper reported.

Xiangyang has received state funds of 437 million yuan (US$70 million) to build and renovate sewage processing facilities, the newspaper said, but the money is far from enough.

The water diversion project was first conceived by late Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1952. But the State Council only approved the project in December 2002.

The project, costing an estimated 500 billion yuan, has led to concerns over land use, possible regional climate change, environmental damage, impact on agriculture and relocations.

The eastern and middle routes are ready, but the western route, with more complex technology, is still in the research stage.

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