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We can’t find that location, so please choose from these options: Check your spelling and try again. Recently I traveled to Southeast Yunnan in China to see the spectacular Yuan Yang rice terraces, flooded and ready for spring planting.
This winter, Beijing and the northern and eastern provinces had the worst drought in 60 years. Water pollution has increased over the last three decades, penetrating coastal and inland water bodies, and both surface and groundwater. Waste and inefficiency also contribute to the water shortage according to a 2009 World Bank report on China’s water scarcity which found that only 45% of the water withdrawn for agriculture actually gets used by the crops.  In addition, the water recycling rate for industry (which accounts for 24% of China’s water consumption) is only 40%, compared to 75% to 85% in developed countries. So not only must China deal with a drying climate and the water needs of a fast-growing urban populace, it must also satisfy the increased demands for energy—and energy production requires water.
Coal mining, processing, combustion and coal-to-chemical industries are responsible for 22% of the nation’s total water consumption, second only to agriculture. In an interview with Circle of Blue, a nonprofit that reports on the global water crisis, Ma Jun, Director of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, and author of China’s Water Crisis, warned that if China does not resolve this water-energy dilemma, it could have serious repercussions for the country’s biodiversity, public health, social stability, energy security, and even global relations.
China’s leaders know that water scarcity is a huge problem, and are tackling it on a number of fronts.  One solution is a plan to quadruple the country’s capacity to desalinate seawater over the next decade. To meet the water and energy demands of urban centers, industry, and agriculture in the northern and western provinces, China is building the $62 billion South-to-North Water Diversion Project (SNWDP), the largest such project ever attempted. Economists, environmentalists, academics and other critics have raised concerns about the SNWDP, fearing that water from the lower Yangtze for the eastern route will remain too polluted to use even after passing through numerous water treatment plants that are planned, and that further industrialization along the routes could pollute diverted water.  Because the south of China is also becoming drier, some worry that the southern provinces just do not have enough water to spare.
Of the SNWDP, Ma Jun said, “this extra volume will only delay the coming of the crisis a little bit. The Chinese leadership is trying not only to increase water supply, but also to curb demand through conservation and efficiency measures, and it’s committed to spending $612.23 billion on water conservation over the next 10 years. In a pilot program I saw in action throughout southwest China, farmers place plastic sheeting around crops, which collects rainwater that flows into the land and minimizes water loss. Industry is conserving water through a progressive new system of water rights transfers in arid Inner Mongolia and Ningxia: The coal industry pays farmers for irrigation upgrades that save water which it can then use. China is also investing heavily in water-saving renewables such as wind, solar, and seawater-cooled nuclear power, and expects that their generating capacity will go from 53 gigawatts in 2010 to 230 gigawatts in 2020. On March 14, 2011, China released its 12th Five-year Plan. “With the 12th Five-Year Plan, China is adopting its most stringent water resource policies to date,” said Wang Hao, director of the Water Resources Department at the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research. Will these commitments and long-range plans be enough to solve China’s water crisis?  The World Bank report stressed that China also needs to strengthen law enforcement, streamline and coordinate water management institutions, and establish clear water rights and penalties. Despite the daunting challenges, the World Bank expressed confidence in China’s ability to meet them.


Rice is a very water-hungry crop and China is the world’s largest producer of rice and grain. Over 300 million people in rural areas have no access to safe drinking water and 54% of China’s main rivers contain water unfit for human consumption. Climate change is speeding up the melting of glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, which is affecting the Yangtze, Mekong and Indus Rivers.
Rivers and lakes polluted by industrial wastewater discharge, untreated sewage, and agricultural runoff force people to draw on groundwater, which results in falling water tables and the drying up of wells, wetlands, and lakes. National water consumption will go from 599 billion cubic meters (158 trillion gallons) to 630 billion cubic meters by 2020.
By 2020, electricity generating capacity is expected to double to 1,900 gigawatts, and despite the country’s significant investments in renewable energy, more than one-fourth of the added electricity will still have to come from coal, which today provides 70% of China’s energy.
In the future, China’s new coal-to-liquid fuel plants that make diesel fuel and water-intensive coal-to-chemical plants that produce pharmaceuticals, pesticides, fertilizer, plastics, etc.
Today China can desalinate 600,000 tons of water a day, but it aims to produce 2.5 to 3 million tons of desalinated water a day by 2020, mainly for use in the dry northern areas. When completed in 2050, it will link the Yangtze, Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe rivers, and divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of water yearly from southern rivers to the arid north.
And there are also concerns about the displacement of people, and the destruction of pasture and antiquities. Since 1998, China has taken 21 million acres of farmland out of production, and required farmers to use more water conserving irrigation practices, reducing the water consumption of agriculture from 83% in 1990 to 60% in 2010. State-of-the-art coal plants are producing more electricity and using less water, while coal mines in Inner Mongolia and Shanxi Province are consolidating in order to use water more efficiently.
New solar, wind and nuclear plants will replace 100 coal plants, conserving 3.5 billion cubic meters of water per year. The plan calls for a 30% reduction in water use for every dollar of industrial output, aims to reduce water pollution by 8% by 2015, and puts a limit on total water use in the Yellow River Basin. It recommended the use of water trading rights and water pricing to manage demand, and suggested making more information available to the public to increase public involvement. The opinions expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Earth Institute or Columbia University. Normally the southern regions receive 80% of China’s rainfall and snowmelt, about 79 inches a year, while the north and west get 20%, 8 to 16 inches.
South China experienced 50% less rainfall than normal, resulting in the drying up of rivers and reservoirs. Warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are causing droughts and increasing desertification.


As groundwater is pumped faster than it can be recharged, wells must be dug deeper, raising the risks for saltwater intrusion and land subsidence.
By then, 57% of the population will live in cities, and by 2030, 70% will be urban dwellers—who consume three times as much water and energy as rural residents.
However, desalination is expensive and requires energy, which, in turn, involves more water. Proposed industrial plants have to prove there is enough water available for them to operate before construction begins, and once approved, must recycle their water. While torrential rainfall fell on the south this week, northern regions are still suffering from drought. According to World on the Edge by Lester Brown, over the last 50 years, 24,000 villages in north and west China were abandoned because of desertification, and the advancing Gobi Desert is now only 150 miles from Beijing. In 2005, 36.3% of north China’s water supply was taken from groundwater, and 90% of urban groundwater was reported to be polluted. By 2020, the coal sector will be responsible for 27% of China’s total water consumption, with an estimated 34 billion cubic meters of water per year used by coal-fired power plants alone. The eastern route, begun in December 2002, will transfer 14.8 billion cubic meters of water yearly from the lower Yangtze, via the ancient 1800-kilometer Hangzhou to Beijing canal, to Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong and Hebei provinces and the city of Tianjin. New buildings in big cities like Beijing are outfitted with plumbing systems that recycle water for washing clothes and flushing toilets. The problem is that most of this additional water will be needed in the arid northern and western provinces of Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Ningxia where China’s vast coal reserves lie. It is expected to be completed in 2013.  The central route, begun in December 2003, will operate on gravity alone and divert 13 billion cubic meters of water each year from the Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River (a Yangtze tributary) to Beijing, Tianjin and other cities. The ambitious and controversial western route will transfer water from three Yangtze tributaries across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau through the Bayankala Mountains into northwest China. If you’re sure you’ve entered it correctly, go back to the product page, and click on ‘Add to basket’. Designed to replenish the flows of the Yellow River for irrigation, it has not yet been given the official go-ahead.



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