Drought worsens China's long-term water crisis

Ray

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Drought worsens China's long-term water crisis

HEXINGTEN, China -- The corn has grown to only half its normal height on Yan Shuqin's ranch in the hills of Inner Mongolia this year, as a swath of northern China suffers its worst drought in 60 years.

The ruddy-faced woman said that even before the rains stopped, the groundwater in her region had been sinking, from 20 meters (about 70 feet) below the surface just a few years ago to as much as 80 meters (260 feet) this past summer. While she can still eat and sell the corn, lettuce and other vegetables on her farm, the yield has shrunk.

"If the grass doesn't grow and the vegetables die off, who's going to be able to live here?" Yan asked outside her family's spotless two-room house. "My mother and her mother lived here. My family has always lived here. What are my children going to do?"

After a season of record-breaking drought across China, groundwater levels have hit historic lows this year in northeast and central parts of China where hundreds of millions of people live. Reservoirs grew so dry in agricultural Henan province that the city of Pingdingshan closed car washes and bathhouses and extracted water from puddles.

But this is no one-time emergency. Farmers like Yan and water-hungry industries have been wrestling with a long-term water crisis that has dried up more than half the country's 50,000 significant rivers and left hundreds of cities facing what the government classifies as a "serious scarcity" of water.

Half a billion Chinese live in a handful of provinces, largely in the northeast, where coal-fired power plants, steel foundries and other water-gulping industries already burden reservoirs and aquifers. Widespread chemical runoff and other pollution have contaminated 60 percent of the country's groundwater.

The country's climate is also warming, particular in its populous northeast where rain levels have fallen, according to a 2011 study by Chinese, French and British researchers. Meanwhile, the country's south has seen its rainfall concentrated in shorter bursts, which has made it harder to predict water supplies.

As a result, per capita water availability in the megacities of Beijing and Shanghai as well as their surrounding provinces equals that of dry Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Jordan, said Feng Hu, a water analyst with the Hong Kong-based research group China Water Risk. By comparison, the average U.S. household has access to nearly five times more available water than Chinese households do.

"If we continue with our business-as-usual model, the demand will exceed supply by 2030," Feng said in a lecture in Beijing last month. "The water crisis is a real risk."

Already, Chinese farmers have lost an estimated US$1.2 billion this year due to drought, while China has slowed plans to tap its vast deposits of shale gas, which sit in areas with the greatest scarcity. The water crisis is also hitting China's main energy source, coal, which requires large amounts of water to extract and convert into power.

Heavy rains over the past week helped lift some of the immediate crisis in central China, flooding cities that just days earlier had been struggling to keep taps flowing. But fields remain bone-dry and parched in Inner Mongolia and other northern regions.

In response to the country's water woes, Chinese authorities have called for solutions that include relying more on imports for foods that require lots of water to produce, such as grains and vegetable oils.

They also are betting on more than 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) of canal that when completed will move trillions of gallons of water from the rivers of China's south to its dry north. One branch of the canal leading straight to Beijing is expected to be done this fall.

Many water experts remain skeptical about the project, however, with some warning it could wreak havoc on southern aquifers and watersheds.

But Fuqiang Yang, a senior adviser with the U.S.-based National Resources Defense Council, said the canal could relieve water shortages in some northern cities such as Beijing, if launched with conservation and water reuse measures. Without the canals, metropolitan Beijing only has enough water for 15 million people, not the 20 million who now live there, he said.

"This has always been a regional problem," Yang said. "Groundwater is going down very quickly ... These areas will not be able to solve the problems themselves. So this canal will provide some important help there."

But Feng said Chinese authorities also need to encourage conservation by ending its subsidization of water consumption by all users, from households to farmers to industries. The average price of residential water in Beijing, for example, is a fifth of that in New York. And although China's per capita consumption rate still falls below the global average, it is rising steadily as the country's economy expands.

Industry and agriculture make up 85 percent of China's water consumption.

"For something so scarce, water in China is not priced at the level it should be," Feng said.

The canals still won't help farmers in remote regions such as far western Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia where the drought has hit the hardest. Despite the arid conditions there, China's government actually hopes to stimulate more water-dependent industries such as coal-fired energy production that will compete with farmers for meager resources.

In Hexingten county in Inner Mongolia, people say they've already seen radical climate shifts. Last winter went by without any significant snows to replenish streams and groundwater, followed by a drought-plagued spring and summer.

A 40-year-old farmer in Hexingten who would only identify himself by his family name of Bao said everyone there is wondering how long they can survive in these grasslands.

"The environment was good before," Bao said. "The grasses grew so tall. Now, it doesn't even rain anymore."

Drought worsens China's long-term water crisis - The China Post
This is the result of mindless and unplanned economic hunger.

Industries and town overusing the meagre water resources.

And the warming through the industries is changing the climate.

Coal is China's main energy source and it requires huge amount of water to extract and wash. With the water shortage, soon China would be having a energy crisis.

It should be a wake up call for India so that we do not go about industrialisation in the mindless way as China has done, just to make money.

Money making is good, but mindless money making leads to money loss and brings about untold miseries.
 

Ray

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All the Three Gorges or control of Mekong and such are proving to challenge nature and notwithstanding claims is causing disharmony.
 

amoy

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Such debates will go on and on for another century, over gigantic projects like Itaipu of Brazil, Aswan of Egypt"¦

Let the academia continue their study into pros and cons, and preventive and remedial measures for any miscalculation.

One thing for sure is millions of people such as in mega city Wuhan (so called Chicago of China), don't have to be soaked in floods as a routine after Three Gorges completition.

Furthermore the build-up in Yarlung Tsangpo should be expedited to alleviate the drought-plagued west.

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Ray

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Furthermore the build-up in Yarlung Tsangpo should be expedited to alleviate the drought-plagued west.
Like the Three Gorges?

Is the Three Gorges Dam really a clean, renewable energy source?

Critics had long warned of the potential environmental damage that would result from such an extensive construction project. Some say that hydroelectric power should not be considered as arenewable energy source because of the irreversible environmental damage that result from these projects.

Greenhouse Gases:
The main environmental benefit of the Three Gorges Dam is the reduction of carbon emissions. However, it has been found that the dam does cause greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere, just not in the form of industrial pollution. In reservoirs, the breakdown of vegetation and organic material that accumulates actually releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere! Therefore, while proponents claim that hydroelectric energy is a "clean" energy source, this is not entirely the case.

Water Pollution:
Vegetation is not the only thing that will accumulate behind the dam. The dam has blocked approximately ten million tons of plastic bags, bottles, animal corpses, trees, and other detritus that would have otherwise have flowed out to sea. The Yangtze River is already one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Because of it's proximity to several city centers, the dumping of industrial wastEnter away message text here.e and sewage has always been a serious problem. More than 265 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the Yangtze annually. In addition, the reservoir itself flooded 1,600 abandoned factories, mines, dumps, and potential toxic waste sites. Because the dam prevents any of this material to be washed out to see, water quality in the Yangtze has become much worse since construction of the dam began.


This project claims to yield social benefits: less air pollution will result in better health and a higher standard of living. But in reality, millions of residents of the Three Gorges Dam area rely on the Yangtze River as their only water source. In Fengdu County alone, which lies on a tributary of the Yangtze River, contaminated water affects the lives of 50,000 people.

Siltation:

Because of reduced water speed behind the dam, an estimated 530 million tons of silt will accumulate behind the dam. Critics claim that the spillway built into the dam, with a discharge capacity of 116,000 cubic meters, is still not of sufficient size to prevent siltation from occurring behind the dam. The rising silt levels could eventually cause sections of the Yangtze to be impassible for shipping, which will impact Chongqing, which relies on Yantze River trade for economic vitality. Silt accumulation could even block the sluice gates that are essential to control water levels behind the dam. In the event of heavy rainfall, rather than working to control the waters, the dam could actually cause more flooding to occur upstream. In addition, the reduced water speed will hinder the power generating capacity of the hydroelectric dam and contribute to accumulation of pollutants and toxins in water, reducing fresh water availability.

Ecosystem Disruption:

The giant hydroelectric dam serves as a physical barrier that disrupts the river ecosystem. In addition to water pollution, habitat fragmentation will have a detrimental affect on all species within the Three Gorges Dam area. In an environmental impact assessment, it was determined that there are 47 endangered species in the Three Gorges Dam area that are supposed to be protected by law. Two of the most popular marine animals in China, the Chinese River Dolphin and the Chinese Sturgeon are included in the list of species at risk. Ecosystem disruption poses not only environmental problems, but economic problems as well. The physical barrier interferes with fish spawning, and in combination with pollution, the dam will have a serious impact on the fishing economy of the Yangtze River.

Deforestation:

Deforestation is another factor that refutes China's claim that the Three Gorges Dam is a "clean" energy source. Forests are a major carbon sink and work to negate greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere. However, the process of deforestation (burning trees) actually emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and is responsible for 20% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
An immense amount of deforestation occurred for the construction of this project, mainly to provide farmland in the surrounding areas for those whose homes and farms were flooded by the reservoir. Much of this land is located on the steep slopes of the gorges, and has been determined as unsuitable land for farming. In addition, the three gorges dam area is geographically unstable, and deforestation has increased the risk of landslides. Because of this, residents are being forced to relocate for a second time.

Landslides:

The most current environmental concern with the Three Gorges Dam is the prevalence of landslides. So far there have been 91 places where the shore has collapsed, with a total of 36 kilometers of land caved in. Some of these landslides have triggered 50 meter-high waves on the reservoir behind the dam. In Fengjie County alone, officials have designated more than 800 disaster-prone areas. The potential for geological disaster is threatening the lives of millions of residents in the area. Large dams increase the possibility for earthquakes because of increasing geological pressure from rising water. Over 360 million people live within the watershed of the Yangtze River. In the chance of earthquake or dam collapse, millions of people who live downstream will be endangered.


Landslides have resulted from a culmination of factors. The Three Gorges area has been always been geologically unstable before construction on the dam began. When relocation began, many people were moved to higher land in the valley just above the flood line. Farmers cleared land to plant crops or orange trees, but deforestation contributed to soil erosion and destabilized many hillsides. Construction crews are now reinforcing the hillsides with concrete to prevent more landslides. Some residents have received aid from the government, but most are camping out in tents nearby for lack of money and transportation to be relocated. Most residents are farmers and fishermen who were forced to leave their villages for higher land and put their life savings into these new homes that were not built on reliable land.

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~vanti20m/classweb/website/environmentalimpact.html
 

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