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|Wednesday, June 21, 2000, updated at 17:02(GMT+8)|
Nation Considers Diverting Water to Arid North through Three RoutesWater experts are dusting off one of China's most ambitious blueprints to divert water from the flood-prone Yangtze River basin to the thirsty north which suffers from chronic drought.
"The project could be completed within the next six to eight years if construction is kicked off in the 2001-05 period, the government's 10th Five-Year Plan,'' a senior official with the Ministry of Water Resources said at a recent press briefing.
This was the latest announcement on the proposed project since 1995 when 200 experts last discussed it.
The plan, first proposed in 1952 by the late Chairman Mao Zedong, has been on the back burner since the initial proposal, sources close to the ministry said.
Following nearly 50 years of research, the 100 billion yuan (US$12.1 billion) project, designed to channel water from the water-rich south to parched lands in the north and northwest, will hopefully be turned into reality in the coming years, analysts say.
Zhang Guoliang, director of South-to-North Water Transfer Planning and Design Administration under the ministry, confirmed that the Yangtze River water will be channeled through three alternate routes in the west, middle and east regions.
Experts said some issues such as the price of water channeled to the north should be settled before the project is started.
An outline on the overall planing of North China's water resources is expected to be submitted to the central government by the ministry this September, Zhang said, adding that "the compendium can provide a basis for decision-makers in the 10th Five-Year Plan.''
On the price of the water, Zeng Zhaojing, deputy director of the design administration, said the government should fix different prices for different water users, indicating that higher prices for industries and urban users would be reasonable.
Also a portion of the water to be diverted through the east line is likely to be below the State-set standards for drinking, experts say.
The long-awaited plan, a controversial one second only to the on-going Three Gorges project, is becoming urgent with the ever-worsening crisis of water resources in the north, particularly after this spring's blanketing sandstorms.
It is also a must for China to support its development in the arid and semi-arid western region, Zhang said.
Zhang and his experts made it clear that the project "is the most challenging to optimize China's water resources, featuring unbalanced distribution of water resources both geographically and seasonally.''
Annually, about 1,000 billion cubic metres of water from the Yangtze runs into the sea while the Yellow River continues to dry up.
"In the north, there are hardly any potential water sources, which has restricted the region's economic development,'' said a report released by Zhang's agency.
The report says the proposed diversion would alleviate the worsening water crisis in northern China, one of the country's most important political, economic and cultural centres, and help further the sustainable development of a national economy.
Zhang said that China has both the economic strength and technological know-how to construct the east and middle transfer line.
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