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China’s Mammoth Plan to Double Hydropower Generation by 2020

Water-rich southwest region, though, is getting dryer.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.


By Rachel Beitarie, Circle of Blue

The hydropower dam construction program in southwest China has no equal anywhere in the world.

Here in Suijiang County, a remote and mountainous region on the border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, the immense scope of the most aggressive dam-building program in history is immediately apparent. Near the county’s center, an army of men and equipment is building the Xiangjiaba Hydropower Dam, a wall of concrete and steel 909 meters (2,982 feet) long and 161 meters (528 feet) high. When it’s completed in 2015, the dam will house eight turbines capable of generating just over 6,400 megawatts. It will be the fourth-largest hydropower plant in China and one of the 20 largest power plants of any kind in the world, according to industry figures.

Immense as it is, the Xiangjiaba Dam is just one of a dozen hydropower projects of similar size that have been approved for the Jinsha River. Taken together, the 12 Jinsha River dams will be capable of generating 59,000 megawatts, or nearly as much power as all 4,000 hydroelectric generating stations in thee United States.

In the latest chapter of Circle of Blue’s Choke Point: China series, Beijing-based Rachel Beitarie writes about China’s mammoth program to, by 2020, double the amount of electricity produced from flowing water, as well as the consequences this program is having on communities, families and the environment. Along the upper Yangtze River and five tributaries that drain China’s midsection, 100 big dams are in various stages of planning, engineering and construction. Additionally, at least 43 big dams are in the same stages of development on the Lancang, Nujiang, Hongshui and Jiulong rivers in southwest China.

Big Risk, Big Reward

The stakes for China’s dam-building campaign encompass every sector of the economy, and it marks a historical and ecological heritage that spans seven southern provinces. The provincial and central government leaders who support China’s program to tame wild rivers behind concrete, steel and stone assert hydropower provides considerable benefits to reduce air pollution, rein in coal consumption and generate electricity for fast-growing cities and industries.

Opponents say dams are wrecking treasured canyons, ruining fisheries and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. Some critics worry too many of China’s new big dams are being built in a seismically active region that has experienced a number of big earthquakes, including one in May 2008 that killed 80,000 people in Sichuan Province. Just as significantly, opponents note China is counting on generating a considerable portion of its energy from rivers in southern China that, because of climate change, say scientists, are experiencing longer and more numerous droughts that are lowering water levels.

Read more about China’s hydropower development on Circle of Blue.

About Rachel Beitarie

Rachel is a Beijing-based Israeli reporter. This is her article for Circle of Blue.

For Circle of Blue’s complete coverage of China’s water-energy challenge, check out the Choke Point: China page on Circle of Blue.

Photographs by Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images for Circle of Blue

Talkback Readers: Will this big risk reap big rewards - or will Mother Nature root against China’s ambitious hydropower development? Dive in and share on Talkback!

07:31 pm by csrwiretalkback[32 notes]

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Water rights transfers and high-tech power plants hold off energy-water clash in northern China

China acts on looming crisis with ambitious water conservation and transfer program.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.


By Nadya Ivanova, Circle of Blue

On a flat and desolate expanse of alkaline desert along the Yellow River in northern China, a mammoth new industrial model to generate energy and save water is rapidly taking shape. The Ningdong Energy and Heavy Chemical Industry Base, as it is called, is a bustling Lego set of energy infrastructure. Bulldozers, workers and cranes snap together standardized parts, churning out colossal cooling towers, candy-striped chimneys and stick-figure transmission towers and lines for the world’s most advanced coal-fired power plants, coal-to-chemical refineries and coal mines.

The phalanx of energy installations, with mines and roads spanning nearly 3,500 square kilometers, takes advantage of two vital resources: a coal reserve underneath the base - China’s sixth largest reserve - and a ready source of water in the Yellow River 35 kilometers away.

In the fourth chapter of its Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue focuses on China’s capacity and modernization program to fuel itself with coal without running out of water.

Since 2003, when it was launched, the Ningdong energy base has been at the center of China’s plan to consolidate its primary energy-producing sector, building coal-to-chemical refineries and coal-fired power plants in closer proximity to the coal mines in its northern and northwestern regions.

Ningdong also takes advantage of an ambitious water conservation and transfer program that requires new industries in the northwestern region of Ningxia to invest in lining and repairing irrigation canals in exchange for the right to use Yellow River water. The upgrade annually saves millions of cubic meters (billions of gallons) of agricultural water that then get transferred to power plants in the province.

A similar program has been operating in Inner Mongolia, the largest coal-producer in China. Between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, the water conservation program has saved about 300 million cubic meters since 2005. And, experts say, it’s part of China’s effort to hold off a looming confrontation between its scarce water reserves and growing coal-based industrial sector, and ensure that it can continue to be the fastest growing economy in the world.

It also signals unprecedented changes in China’s water management that are seen by government and industry leaders as essential to solving some of the critical water stresses in the north.

About Nadya Ivanova

Nadya, who has reported from China, Europe and the United States, is a reporter and producer for Circle of Blue. Since 2006, she has been traveling back and forth between her native Bulgaria and Chicago, where studied journalism and International Studies at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Before joining Circle of Blue, Nadya interned at bTV, the major national TV channel of Bulgaria. She is one of the winners of the European Young Journalist Award 2009.

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Photo: © Aaron Jaffe/Circle of Blue

Talkback Readers: Is China’s agriculture-to-industry water transfer program ‘liquid’ enough to solve some of the critical water stresses in the north? Tell us on Talkback!

04:34 pm by csrwiretalkback[12 notes]

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A Dry and Anxious North Awaits China’s Giant Water Transport Scheme

Authorities anticipate approval for new western line to tap energy reserves.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Aaron Jaffe and Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

Talk about the mother of all water projects. In 2014 some 9.6 billion cubic meters of water a year (2.5 trillion gallons) will pour through the immense tunnels under construction in Henan Province in northern China, and be sent north to help curb water shortages in more than a dozen cities, including Beijing.

A second line of China’s South-North Water Transfer Project should already be operating by then, transporting 14.8 billion cubic meters of water annually from the lower Yangtze River to Tianjin.

And this month, in its new 12th Five-Year Plan, the official guide to national development, China is expected to approve construction planning for a third “western” line, according to interviews Circle of Blue conducted with several authorities close to the project. The western line will transport 8 billion more cubic meters of water annually from the Himalayan region in the west to supply the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River in the north.

Taken together, reports Circle of Blue in the latest chapter of its Choke Point: China series, the three lines of the South-North Water Project are an audacious strategy to solve a commanding threat to China’s modernization: the increasingly dire confrontation between rising energy demand in a nation that is steadily getting drier. China’s plan is to eventually remove 36 billion cubic meters of water every year (9.5 trillion gallons) from the Yangtze River Basin, which drains much of the nation’s central and western regions, and ship it north. That is tantamount to reversing the flow of the Missouri River, which drains the Great Plains and part of the Northwest in the United States, and sending it back to Montana.

It’s no surprise ever since construction began in 2002, the South-North Water Project has generated a strong current of public comment. China’s government authorities insist the project, now estimated to cost $US 62 billion, is essential to developing cities and energy-rich provinces of northern and western China, the fastest growing regions in the country, which are running out of water.

"Transferring water from the south to north makes perfect sense," said Wang Hao, director of the Water Resources Department at the state-run China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research in Beijing, and one of China’s most influential government water scientists.

Wei Zhimin, a water expert in Hebei Province within a unit of the Ministry of Water Resources, said last year in an interview with Xiaoxiang Evening News that the South-North Project would not solve north China’s water crisis, but was nevertheless essential.

"Lifeline is one word to describe it," Wei said. "And by lifeline I mean a lifeline for north China, Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei included."

But the project’s critics - among them academics, economists and environmental leaders - assert that the magnitude and cost of building and operating the continental water transport system would produce a cascade of unintended consequences that could overwhelm benefits to China.

These consequences include much higher municipal, agricultural and industrial water prices, damage to aquatic environments, more treatment facilities for Yangtze water that is currently too polluted to use and continuing water shortages in northern China, and possibly in southern China, too. Most importantly, reports Circle of Blue, water from the South-North project won’t relieve the serious choke point that’s developed in the northern coal-rich provinces where China can’t tap new reserves because of ongoing water scarcity.

"We should take no pride in doing such a project," said Ma Jun, an author and director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organization in Beijing. “This is a moment for us, a sobering moment for us, to reflect upon how we drove ourselves to such a situation.”

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Talkback Readers: Will Chinese authorities, led by Ma Jun’s example, take time to reflect on their country’s water crisis? Or will the South-North Water Project scorch any sustainability measures? Share your thoughts on Talkback!

06:12 pm by csrwiretalkback[16 notes]

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