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UPDATED: December 30, 2014 NO. 14 APRIL 3, 2014
Quenching the Thirst
A new channel in the world's largest water diversion project is expected to begin flowing soon
By Yin Pumin

HEADWATER: The Danjiangkou Reservoir in central China's Hubei Province feeds the middle route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project (HAO TONGQIAN)

After 10 years of construction, the middle route of the South-to-North Water Diversion (SNWD) Project is set to start supplying water later this year, according to the State Council's Office of the SNWD Project Commission.

All construction work for the channel, which brings water from the Danjiangkou Reservoir in central China's Hubei Province to the municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin, as well as the provinces of Hebei and Henan, is expected to be completed in May. Trial operations are scheduled to begin in June, and full operations will start after September, said E Jingping, Director of the office, at a meeting on January 15.

"The route will provide up to 9.5 billion cubic meters of clean water to 19 large and medium-sized cities and more than 100 smaller towns in the arid northern part of China every year," E said.

The main part of the first phase of the middle route was completed last December and the first phase of the eastern route of the project has already started to supply water to Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces since November 2013.

"The project will focus on operational stability, efficiency and coordination between the multiple stakeholders this year," E added.

Large-scale endeavor

The SNWD project, the largest water diversion program in the world, has been designed to divert water from the Yangtze River in the south via eastern, middle and western routes to satisfy the water demand in the drought-prone northern regions of China. It aims to transfer 44.8 billion cubic meters of water every year.

The three routes as planned will have a combined length of 4,350 km, with the eastern and middle routes accounting for 2,899 km. In 2002 and 2003, construction of the eastern and middle routes began successively.

The western route, also known as the Big Western Line, will transport water from the headwaters of the Yangtze River into the headwaters of the Yellow River. However, there is not yet timetable for the route's construction with the research necessary still underway.

Zhang Ye, Deputy Director of the State Council's Office of the SNWD Project Commission, estimated that the eastern and middle routes will directly benefit 110 million people and 253 cities along the route, providing opportunities for the cities' economic restructuring.

Additionally, the project will fuel China's economic growth by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points per year and create 500,000 to 600,000 jobs, according to Zhang.

On December 19, 2013, the Ministry of Environmental Protection released the results of an inspection, saying that water samples collected from the eastern and middle routes of the SNWD project showed that the water is suitable for drinking and other uses.

"Though being suitable for drinking overall, the water quality still holds hidden dangers from both the source reservoirs and along the routes," said Wang Dongqing, Deputy Director of the ministry's Environmental Supervision Bureau.

Zhang Jiyao, former Director of the State Council's Office of the SNWD Project Commission, also warned that improving water quality is a tough task as the middle route crosses more than one province.

"We have built lots of polluted water treatment facilities, closed polluting factories, upgraded the industry and tackled the problems of agricultural pollution," Zhang said, adding that the authorities have set up environmental protection zones within 1 km of the waterways, which prohibit heavy industry and polluting factories.

From July to September last year, three inspection centers affiliated with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, together with environmental departments from five provinces along the routes—Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan, Hubei and Shaanxi—conducted inspections on potential dangers in the water.

The inspections focused on the progress of water-pollution-control projects in the region, the discharge of pollutants by local enterprises and water quality.

A major problem discovered was the slow progress of pollution-control projects along the middle route, Wang said.

According to Wang, 474 pollution control projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015, but only around 10 percent have actually been finished and only 3 percent are functioning. These projects are mainly sewage treatment plants planned for towns and villages along the diversion waterway, which are designed to improve water quality in the long run.

Wang said that although some of the projects may be postponed, most of them should be completed as planned before 2016.

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