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China Unveils New Water Megaprojects to Tackle Climate Change Crisis

Mark Wang acknowledges the feasibility of some engineering solutions with minimal environmental impact, he believes that directing similar efforts toward reducing demand could be more effective in the long run.

Shivam Dwivedi
China Unveils New Water Megaprojects to Tackle Climate Change Crisis (Photo Source: Pixabay)
China Unveils New Water Megaprojects to Tackle Climate Change Crisis (Photo Source: Pixabay)

China's plans to construct new water infrastructure projects in the face of looming droughts have raised concerns among experts who warn about potential high costs and environmental disruption. The proposed national "water network" aims to create canals, reservoirs, and storage facilities to enhance irrigation, mitigate flood risks, and combat water scarcity.

Minister of Water Resources Li Guoying claims that the plan will improve water distribution by 2035. However, critics argue that relying solely on large-scale engineering solutions could prove expensive and leave southern regions vulnerable to supply disruptions, necessitating additional infrastructure.

Mark Wang, a geographer at Melbourne University specializing in China's water infrastructure, emphasizes the need for China to focus on reducing water use and improving efficiency instead of pursuing mega-diversion projects. He suggests that curbing demand, enhancing wastewater recycling, and addressing pollution should be prioritized.

Wang also highlights that China has already undertaken over 100 diversion projects in the past five years. Investments in fixed water assets surpassed 1.1 trillion yuan ($154 billion) in 2022, representing a 44% increase compared to the previous year. Analysts anticipate further funding availability for such projects, although the costs associated with them are expected to rise.

One aspect of the new plan involves expanding the South-North Water Diversion Project (SNWDP), which diverts excess water from the Yangtze River to the water-scarce Yellow River basin in the north. While the SNWDP has been deemed beneficial for optimizing China's water supplies, it only facilitates water flow in one direction and was unable to provide assistance during last year's droughts.

Experts caution that China's reliance on large-scale projects like the SNWDP and the Three Gorges Dam could potentially relocate water shortages rather than address the underlying issue. These mega-projects have triggered unforeseen consequences, leading to the need for substantial additional infrastructure investments.

For instance, diverting water to the north through the Danjiangkou reservoir has depleted water downstream on the Han River, prompting authorities to propose a 60 billion yuan project to connect Danjiangkou with the Three Gorges reservoir. The Three Gorges Dam itself, responsible for sequestering significant volumes of Yangtze water for power generation and flood management, has been blamed for record-low water levels in Poyang Lake.

Authorities are considering plans for a new sluice gate to address this problem, although critics argue it may harm local habitats. China's proposal to divert water from Tibet to northwest China has also raised concerns among countries like India that depend on rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Mekong.

Experts suggest that alternative approaches focusing on wastewater recycling, desalination, and demand reduction may yield better results. Given that around 60% of China's water supplies are used for agriculture, efficiency improvements could be achieved through crop substitution and alternative irrigation methods.

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