China Diverting Major River to "Water" Beijing Olympics

Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing, China
for National Geographic News
February 28, 2008

Landlocked Beijing has begun tapping a lattice of reservoirs, rivers, and canals across eastern China to provide plentiful water for this summer's Olympic Games.

As part of the initiative, more than 150 million cubic meters (39.6 billion gallons) of water are being diverted from the Yellow River through a network of canals stretching across three provinces to refill a lake south of the historically drought-stricken Chinese capital.

A parallel project is diverting water to the east coast resort of Qingdao, which will host the Olympic sailing competitions.

"Athletes from all over the world will come to China to join the Olympic Games [in August]," said Huang Feng, a researcher at the Yellow River Conservancy Commission, which is in charge of the river's diversion.

"So Beijing is implementing its master plan to provide the very highest quality of water."

Only the Beginning

The current rerouting is just the precursor to a 60-billion-U.S.-dollar hydro-engineering project expected to see three human-carved rivers carry water from southern China to the arid north.

The water transfer project is designed to divert more than 40 billion cubic meters (10.5 trillion gallons) of water each year from China's longest river, the Yangtze, and its tributaries.

But observers say the move will likely spark bitter disputes between those losing and gaining access to a precious resource.

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In 2000 "thousands of farmers in the Yellow River Basin of eastern China clashed with police over a government plan to recapture runoff from a local reservoir for cities, industries, and other users," she noted.

What's more, about 300,000 Chinese are slated for resettlement to make room for new diversion channels.

Continued on Next Page >>




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