E Jingping is vice-chairman of the Committee on Population, Resources and Environment of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and former minister of water resources. [Photo/cppcc.gov.cn]
After extensive debates and through arduous construction, the first phase of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project was completed and came into operation in December 2014. It was the first time that China had achieved the integrated allocation of the water resources of the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, the Huaihe River and the Haihe River, in the spirit of channeling water resources from the south to the north and from the west to the east.
I. A key strategic infrastructure for water resource allocation
During his inspection tour of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project in Nanyang, a city in Central China's Henan province, in May 2021, President Xi Jinping said that as a significant and strategic infrastructure to optimize water resources, the project is necessary for the overall national strategy, the long-term development of the Chinese nation and the improvement of people's well-being, and will benefit generations to come.
The South-to-North Water Diversion Project consists of the eastern, central and western routes, which are designed to annually transfer 44.8 billion cubic meters of water from the lower, middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River respectively. Its water-receiving areas total 1.45 million square meters, covering nearly half of the country’s provincial-level regions. The eastern route has an annual capacity of channeling 14.8 billion cu m of water to East China’s Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces, as well as to North China’s Hebei province and Tianjin municipality. The middle route is designed to transfer 13 billion cu m of water to Central China’s Henan and Hebei province, as well as Tianjin and Beijing municipalities annually. The western route aims at sending 17 billion cu m of water to nine provincial-level regions along the Yellow River. Since its completion, the first phase of the eastern and central routes of the project has annually delivered 8.9 billion and 9.5 billion cu m of water to their respective destinations.
Compared with southern China, the northern part of the country boasts less water but more land. Northern China covers an area equal to 64 percent of the country's land mass, 46 percent of its total population, 63 percent of its total farmland, and 44 percent of its national gross domestic product (GDP). However, the region shares only 19 percent of the country's water resources. The basic conditions of northern China have posed a severe challenge to the supply-demand relations of its water resources, population and production capacity. The scarcity of water resources in the region has led to the drying-up of local rivers, land subsidence and ecological deterioration. In response to the situation, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) made a decision to launch the South-to-North Water Diversion Project in accordance with natural law, economic and social development and basic national conditions.
II. The right decision made by the CPC Central Committee to kick off the South-to-North Water Diversion Project with enormous economic and social benefits
So far, the first phase of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project has transferred more than 56 billion cu m of water, directly benefiting 150 million people and bringing enormous economic, ecological, social and safety benefits.
1. The project has reshaped the country's layout of inland rivers. The eastern, central and western routes of the project have connected the Yangtze River with the Yellow River, the Huaihe River and the Haihe River and established a new paradigm of Chinese rivers, with four west-to-east waterways and three south-to-north waterways, and a complimentary allocation of water resources between the south and the north and between the east and the west. As a country's future is closely connected to its access to water, the completion of the project will optimize water resource allocation in China, reshape the country’s economic and ecological patterns as well as strategic layouts, support the implementation of a new development philosophy, the building of new development paradigm and high-quality development, and will lay a solid foundation for the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.
2. The project has fundamentally ensured water supply in northern China. Since it went into operation, more than 40 big- and medium-sized cities, and over 280 counties, have received water through the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. Over 95 percent of water-receiving cities along the central route of the project have met the water supply reliability standard, a significant increase from less than 75 percent in the past. Meanwhile, the water supply rate for people's daily lives and industrial production along the eastern route has risen from below 80 percent to over 97 percent, guaranteeing water supply for basic living necessities and necessary industrial production and providing a safety measure to cope with drought and other extreme weather.
3. The project has noticeably enhanced the well-being of people in water-receiving areas. The completion of the first phase of the central and eastern routes of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project has dramatically raised the water quality of beneficiary regions, and brought historic changes to local people's access to reliable, safe drinking water. Meanwhile, the project has created two new green and waterside ecological belts with a length of over 1,000 kilometers, closed the gap between the public and nature, and enhanced the sense of gain, happiness and security of the people.
4. The South-to-North Water Diversion Project has remarkably improved the ecological environment of water-receiving areas. Water-receiving areas of the project have greatly addressed their water problems, improved their ecological environment, implemented the ecological concept of the co-existence between humanity and nature, and comprehensively advanced their ecological progress. The adoption of water replenishment has effectively resolved the water scarcity and pollution of rivers in northern China. For instance, Baiyangdian Lake in Hebei has witnessed consistent improvement of its water environment and ecology. There is reliable and sufficient water for Xiong'an New Area. Northern China has successfully brought an end to the problem of land subsidence.
III. Pushing forward the high-quality development of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project
The core task of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project is to provide solid support to China's high-quality economic and social development, which in turn demands its own high-quality development.
So far, the country has launched a new project to divert water from the Yangtze River to the Hanjiang River in the ensuing project of the central route of the project. The second phase of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project's eastern route has completed its preliminary tasks. Smooth progress has been made in the feasibility study of the project's western route.
All stakeholders have thoroughly implemented the important instructions made by President Xi, adhered to the layout of "four west-to-east waterways and three south-to-north waterways" and "the complimentary relations between the south and the north and between the east and the west in water resource allocation", accelerated the building of a national water artillery with complete systems, coordinated functions, intensive and efficient utilization, spatial balance, inter-connectivity, orderly allocation, smart and green features, safety and reliability, in a move to meet the demands of the population, productivity distribution and major national development strategies, to support the building of a modern socialist country, and to facilitate the realization of the blueprint drawn up by President Xi. He said that the completion of the water network will become another milestone in the Chinese history of water governance.
(The author is E Jingping, vice-chairman of the Committee on Population, Resources and Environment of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and former minister of water resources.)
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