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South-North Water Transfer Project in China


North-South Water Transfer Project, China
One of the fastest-growing developing mega-economies in the world is striking more environmental hurdles than expected.  This time, it is in regards to water security, rather than atmospheric pollution.

Some key environmental problems that are becoming more evident (or beginning to manifest) include soil degradation, over-extraction and pollution of (both surface and ground) water sources, whereby the latter has subsequntly led to land subsidence. This over-reliance on water has restricted availability in major hubs such as north-eastern China (e.g. Beijing).

To compensate for water shortages in northern China, (that relies on the relatively low-flowing Yellow River), the South-North Water Transfer (SWNT) Project is under way, with the plan to divert approximately 44.8 billion cubic metres of water per year from southern China to the north (north-east), with the ultimate aim of ensuring ample environmental flows for the Yellow River and its tributaries.

Considering the heavy reliance of desalination plants (both existing and proposed units – as shown in the image below) this will place an additional burden on ensuring successful water conservation for the nation’s population. Notwithstanding the size of China’s megacities, industry and agriculture are significantly dependent on the provision of water. In 2007, approximately 750 billion cubic metres of water was used for agriculture, including 43 percent derived from irrigation sources.


These themes have played a central role in the latest report by Postdoctorate researcher, Carole Delin, who is based in Grantham Research Institute for Climate Change and the Environment. Her and her colleagues have produced a comprehensive analysis of the future of food security and water management within their latest scientific journal, available here.

Addressing significant disparities in water flows from southern and north-eastern China by avoiding droughts and floods for the Yellow and Yantze Rivers respectively, will  be paramount in achhieving water security; both in the short-term and long-term. Ultimately, a combination of technologies will required.

Featured image source: The Guardian

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