Phase One of the South-North Water Diversion Project to be Completed in 2007

February 7, 2005

The first phase of the South-North Water Diversion Project will be completed in 2007, Xinhua reports. The project is aimed at diverting water originating in the Yangtze River in southern China and sending it north by three different routes to cities facing severe water shortages.

Press accounts indicate that the project is already encountering major financial and environmental obstacles. According to a China Daily article and other reports in the foreign press, Zhang Jiyao, the director of the State Council’s office in charge of the project, said that construction to date has already exceeded estimated budgets.

In addition, officials expect that assuring good water quality will be difficult. According to the article, Director Zhang urged local governments to ensure that the water will not be polluted as it travels along the new routes. But critics of the project point out that the water in the Yangtze River that is to be diverted to the north is seriously polluted. Critics also charge that implementing pollution prevention policies at the local level is one of the greatest obstacles to eliminating Yangtze River pollution. On January 27 a Beijing Review article highlighted the causes of the pollution of the river: both industries and local officials often ignore sewage disposal regulations, and environmental protection law is generally weak.

Government bureaus have begun taking steps recently to protect the water in the Yangtze and other Chinese rivers. The State Environmental Protection Agency’s (SEPA) continuing campaign to enforce the Environmental Impact Assessment Law initially involved targeting 30 projects, including two large hydroelectric projects on the Yangtze River. SEPA also issued a list of banned projects, in which it stresses the importance of implementing pollution prevention plans within a specified period of time, particularly in the Three Gorges Dam reservoir area and the upper part of the Yangtze River.

In addition, the National People’s Congress recently passed a new Amendment to the Law on Solid Waste Pollution, in part to protect China’s waterways from solid waste pollution. In articles in Xinhua and the China Daily the State Forestry Administration announced the addition of nine new wetland reserves, a number of which are on the Yangtze River. Another China Daily report said that the State Council had approved a program to protect China’s rivers.