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State set to begin ambitious Yangtze diversion project (11/15/2001)
2004-06-12 15:14
China will begin channelling water from the south to the parched north next year -- its largest water diversion project in history.
At least 5,000 experts have been researching and preparing for this moment since the 1950s, said Zhang Jiyao, vice-minister of water resources, in Beijing.

"So far, consensus has been reached on all aspects of the project, including priorities, layout, water-pollution controls, water-saving measures, protection of ecosystems, investment shares and water pricing."

By 2010, urban and industrial water users in Beijing and Tianjin - two cities plagued by worsening water shortages - are expected to use water taken from the Yangtze River by the project's east and middle lines.

About 370,000 locals will be migrated to make way for the east and middle routes. Officials have given them enough notice to make the move as painless as possible.

The ambitious water transfer project will divert water from China's longest river, the Yangtze, to North China, where water shortage has become a bottleneck restricting sustainable development of the economy.

More than 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) will be invested in construction of the east and middle water-diversion routes stretching for 2,400 kilometres. The west line is still in the planning stages.

The central government will share 60 per cent of the total investment, with the rest to be paid by local authorities who will benefit from the project.

As much as 30 per cent of the State's investment will be loans from domestic banks, Zhang said.

"But loans from overseas or foreign banks will not be used, due to their high interest rate," he said.

Part of the investments from local governments may be raised by gradually increasing present water-use charges.

The price of water from the project will vary from region to region, said Zhang Guoliang, another water official.

"Generally speaking, the price of water will be much higher than it is today," he said.

Officials said the price per cubic metre of urban water in Beijing is likely to double in the next five years from the existing 2 yuan (24 US cents).

That should be an incentive for people to conserve water, officials said.

Zhang was confident that adverse environmental impacts of the project will be minimized since China has earmarked funds for water pollution controls.

The project's three planned water diversion routes are designed to connect the Yangtze with the three largest rivers in the north - the Yellow, the Huaihe and the Haihe rivers.

Such a water network is an ideal way to optimize China's unevenly distributed water resources

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