South-to-North Water Diversion Project Helps China Adapt to Climate Change

Spotlight Activity: South-to-North Water Diversion Project Helps China Adapt to Climate Change

Uneven water distribution from South to North has long been a serious water security problem for China. Climate change further intensified this problem through change in precipitation patterns and increases in temperature. More and higher intensity of rain leads to more floods in the South. Less precipitation combined with increase in ground temperature in the North has greatly reduced the amount of usable water in the North. The population pressure, over extraction of ground water have resulted in rapid sinking water table, empty wells and increasingly expensive pumping costs in the North, which makes water usage a big challenge for people in the Northern part of China.

Since the late twentieth century, China has tried to divert water from the South to the North to mitigate the water shortage problems. In 2010, 2012 and 2014, thousands billions of dollars were invested into the South-to-North Water Diversion project. Four hundred million people that lived in the Northern part of China had better access to drinking water after this project was established. The water coming from the South also helped alleviate over extraction of the ground water in the North, which helps maintain the functionality of the wetlands in the North and protects biodiversity.

Many critics have identified water quality problems with the project. Some of the water from the South has been polluted by some large industries in the South. Negative environmental impacts are seen in the South as water extraction process disturbed the ecosystem in the Changjiang River. Moving water to the North also caused water depletion in dry season of some major lakes in the South including Hongze Lake and Boyang Lake. What’s more, the cost of moving water is estimated to be higher than a proposed water desalination process by 2-3 times.

Under the era of climate change, with increasingly more precipitation falling in the South and less in the North, this project definitely helps redistribute water. However, the environmental cost should be considered as well.

Status: Standing Still

The water diverting project has helped adapt to climate change by redistributing water from the South to the North. Excessive rain precipitates in the South, a sign of climate change, and this water is being moved to the North. However, considering the potential negative impacts on river and lake ecosystems, the overall benefits of this project are questionable. Also, this project focuses more on water quantity, with a neglect of focus on water quality issues. Water pollution has also been seen as a drawback for this project.

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Hanping Xu
The Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China
Email Address: anquan@mwr.gov.cn
Tel: 010-63202183

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