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Water Transfer System to End Xinjiang Drought

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China may consider to divert seawater from its eastern regions along thousands of kilometers of pipeline made of glass-reinforced plastic to the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in response to its decades-long drought, experts said.

The proposal, which follows the country's South-to-North Water Diversion Project, will cover three provinces and autonomous regions in North and Northwest China, including Gansu and Inner Mongolia. The route will transfer water from the coast of the Bohai Sea to the southeastern part of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and then enter Xinjiang, Xinjiang Daily reported on Monday.

The proposal has aroused great concern among experts at a local forum held in regional capital Urumqi on Nov 5, the report said.

At present, drought and desertification of land due to water shortages in Xinjiang have become a serious threat to the future development of the local economy, Huo Youguang, a professor with Xi'an Jiaotong University, told Xinjiang Daily.

Huo noted that less than 4.2 percent of Xinjiang's total 1.66 million square kilometers of land is now suitable for human habitation.

"Since a total of 75 percent of the Earth is covered by seawater, the best way to solve water shortage, especially for China, which is one of the most water-poor countries in the world, is to make use of seawater," Professor Zeng Hengyi, of China High-Tech Industrialization Association, said.

The idea is to transfer large amounts of seawater to fill salt playas, saltwater lakes and basins at the edge of desert, including Ayding Lake, Aibi Lake and Lop Lake, which will help to increase local rainfall and prevent sandstorms, the report said.

Also, water can be used for the generation of electricity due to the area's steep topography.

"The idea is quite practical and will bring great benefits to local development," said Li Xin'e, an official of the Development Research Center with the regional government of Xinjiang.

"The Inner Mongolia autonomous region started the project about six years ago and it has completed infrastructure construction to some extent, while Xinjiang lags far behind," Li told China Daily on Monday.

She indicated that the center will put forward a proposal to the regional government for approval.

Li dismissed the concern that the seawater transfer will destroy the area's ecosystem.

"Desalted seawater will be poured into the lakes, which formerly kept a harmonious ecosystem with the desert. I hope it's not too late to save the lakes and restore the former ecosystem," she said.

(China Daily November 9, 2010)

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