Solving n°1 Beijing environment issue : Water supply

The China South North Water Diversion project

Beijing has one major enviromental problem. Of course, if you have been there you probably thing about air pollution in China’s capital city, but then you ae wrong. The major issue, by far, is water.

2012 and 2013 have been water bonanza years, with heavy rains during teh summer that even costed the lives of 77 people in july 2012, but this is not enough, far from it. Beijing is plagued by drought year afte year, and with together with Tainjin, its neighbor city, the urban area counts almost 30 million inhabitants. The effects of the Gobi desert moving eastwards, the overexplotation of natural ressources make it more and more complicated.

In 2012, there was a shortage of 1.1 billion cubic meters, for a total consumption of 3.6 billion cubic meter. The city is short of 30% of its water needs.

According to the latest figures, around 90% of the urban area’s water needs correspond to agriculture and industry, the residential water is not the main issue. In the future, it could change, since the annual consumption of 100 cubic meter per peron per year in rather low by western standards and will probably increase sharply in the close future. Everything indicates that Beijing water supply problems are on the rise. It is among the things to know before you arrive in Beijing in your apartment


A 81 billion dollars project

The authorities are trying to solve the problem by transferring water from large water reservoirs in Hebei and Hunan. The overall project is called «  Transfer of Water from the South to the North » or South North Water Diversion Project, that should begin to be implemeted by october 2014.

The master reservoir in the project is the Dangjiankou reservoir and the total cost of the work is expected to be around 81 billion dollars. Yes, the figure is impressive, so impressive that some officials have suggested that it would be better to move China’s capital city instead of wasting such amazing amounts of money in a project that might even be a desperate one, not sufficient to cover the increasing needs.

There is an additional issue : the quality of the water. For example, regarding the above-mentioned Dangjiankou reservoir is served by 5 rivers, all of them heavily polluted, their water being only fit for industry or agriculture, depending on the rivers, but not for human use.


A population of 180.000 people moved away

To ensure a better water quality, more than 300 factories have been closed so far but the problem is still massive with quantities of waste water connected to the rivers. 180.000 will have to move to enable the project and even then, the reservoir water supply to Beijing might be irregular, thus requiring other sources of water from the south.


A problem that began centuries ago

This is not a new problem, China’s capital cities have been plagued by water shortage, this is even among the reasons why Xi’An or Chang’An was once abandoned as a capital city. The problem is, Beijing is nor very favored with water either. Canals have been built around the country, and this is is not really random that Beijing Qing Dynasty Summer Palace has been built around the Kunming Lake, which was at the time Beijing’s reservoir.

What is difficult to estimate is the cost on the ecosystems, since the water cming from the south will poverish other areas that need water as well, and what happens if there are severe droughts in the south ?

The project is too important, there is around 40 years of work still to go before it’s completed, but seen the needs of northeast China, nothing can stop it.


Sources :


The Guardian





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