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China to implement controversial water plan -

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China to implement controversial water plan

Broadcast: 03/04/2007

Reporter: Stephen McDonell

China is about to implement a controversial plan to pump huge volumes of water from southern China
to the north.


TONY JONES: Proposals to drought proof Australia by pumping water through giant pipelines to the
outback have often been ridiculed as crazy flights of fancy. But in China such a plan is about to
become a reality. Three networks of pipes and canals will pump huge volumes of water from the lush
south to the arid north. Depending on who you speak to it will either be a great engineering marvel
or a destructive solution to what's already an enormous environmental problem.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Beijing is a city of more than 15 million people and growing. The more the city
expands outward and upward, the more water it consumes on a daily basis. But the land surrounding
Beijing is arid, like most of China's northern cities it struggles to supply water to its citizens.

ZHANG JUNFENG, GREENREMOTE DIRECTOR (TRANSLATION): North China and north-west China have huge water
shortages. The water scarcity in some areas is beyond imagination.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: China's solution is to build a massive network of pipes, canals and aqueducts
which will take water from the lush south and pump it to the arid north. The first section will be
opening before the Olympic Games and in the coming years the water volumes will grow and grow. It's
hard to get your head around the scale of the project but water arrives here from the south and
will be pumped through the pipes at a rate of 60 cubic metres of water a second, that's 200,000
cubic metres of water an hour or more than 5 million cubic metres of water a day.

2010, 18 billion cubic metres of water is diverted from the Yangtze River or the main stream of the
Yangtze River to north China.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: The idea for the project goes back a long way. Mao Zedong, who famously filmed
swimming in the Yangtze River in the 1960s, had already proposed a decade earlier that water from
the river be pumped to the north of China.

ZHANG JUNFENG (TRANSLATION): He's not wrong to propose this idea from the perspective of being a
philosopher and a national leader. Even an ordinary person would think in this way: to borrow from
the rich to benefit the poor. However, nature is a balance. South China has more water resources
but to bring water from there does not mean that south China will lose anything.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Chinese environmentalists are worried that to draw so much water out of the
Yangtze River will not only damage the local ecological system but jeopardise the future of the
river as a resource.

ZHANG JUNFENG (TRANSLATION): One possibility is that in the future no water will be available to be
diverted from the water source. That is to say after a certain amount of water has been diverted,
serious ecological damage will be done to the river itself.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: But the project's engineers think that the mighty Yangtze River can easily
sustain this level of use.

NING YUAN (TRANSLATION): The water to be diverted accounts for only a tiny percentage of the water
volume in the local areas. We've thought about this issue thoroughly.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Historians are also concerned that cultural relics, especially ancient tombs,
will be submerged to make way for the water diversion. The project's managers say the most valuable
relics will either be removed or the line diverted to protect them.

NING YUAN (TRANSLATION): People may have complaints about the speed of construction work, but I've
had no voice of dissatisfaction on the protection work of cultural relics.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Many Chinese historians are still angry about the cultural destruction caused by
the Three Gorges dam network. It's submerged towns which were thousands of years old, so they don't
trust government assurances that ancient sites will be preserved. But advocates of the south-north
water diversion ask what choice does China have? Its booming north simply does not have enough
water to sustain its economic growth or its ballooning population. Environmentalists argue China is
coming at the problem the wrong way.

ZHANG JUNFENG (TRANSLATION): The solution is actually to limit the scale of human activity in the
region, to limit it to within the capacity of the local ecological environment.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: But the $80 billion project will not be stopped now. Forward projections estimate
that by the year 2050, it will be able to shift 45 billion cubic metres of water annually. Yet the
secret fear that one engineer expressed to us was that even that amount of water might not be
enough to sustain cities like Beijing in the near future and the Chinese Government will have to
start looking for some other sources of water to keep the dry half of the country alive.