China's Huge Water Project 'Going into High Gear,' Time To Break Ground On NAWAPA XXI

Construction of the central route of China's South-to-North Water Diversion is now going into high gear, two years ahead of this section's original deadline. The South-to-North project is currently the largest water project in the world; when completed, it will carry water from the Yangtze River northwards along three routes to northeastern China's water-starved cities, including Beijing and Tianjin. When finished, the project will carry about 44.8 billion cubic meters of water a year. The project includes constructing huge reservoirs and taking water under the Yellow River via enormous pipes. The central route will be 1,432 km long when finished.

As of June 10, over 60% of the projects in central Henan province have been completed, the provincial project office told Xinhua. About half the central section will be built through Henan. "Projects on the central route are now going into high gear, and they are expected to be finished by the end of 2013 and provide water in 2014," according to project head Wang Xiaoping. "Ensuring construction progress and quality are both top concerns." Builders are facing the coming rainy season, with high potential for floods and very hot summer temperatures.

Construction of the eastern route, which runs from the Yangtze River to Shandong province, will be completed by the end of this year, and water will start to flow next year, meeting the original deadline. The western route, which would send water from the Yangtze directly into the Yellow River near the two rivers' sources on the 3,000- to 5,000-meter-high Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, represents huge challenges, and is still on the drawing boards.

Another proposed water project, would re-open the full length of China's ancient Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal to traffic. Currently, the southern half of the 1,776 km Grand Canal, the longest artificial waterway in the world, the section between Hangzhou and Jining, is still in use, but northern sections have been closed for 110 years. Retired Shandong government advisor Li Diankui told China Economic Weekly earlier this month, that "It's time for the grand canal to be put into use again." To do this, a way must be found to cross the Yellow River, likely by a channel under the river, and to develop an advanced canal system.

Li stated that "Neither railway nor highway can replace the canal. Water freight is not only low-cost, but [the Canal] can also carry the equivalent of three highways and two railways." Closing off the canal in Shandong has also led to deterioration of its surrounding areas. "Over the more than 100 years when the canal was cut off, the ecology and environment of the surrounding areas suffered severely and has even led to some geological damage in Beijing and Tianjin," Li said. The Canal is now a world relic, but Li Diankui thinks making it a working canal is the best way to preserve the 2,500 year old project. "Restarting traffic over the grand canal is the best way to protect the canal and the best guarantee of success."

Meanwhile, Obama fiddles as the United States, literally, burns. The states of New Mexico and Colorado have seen record breaking wildfires in terms of area burned and overall destruction-- these areas intersect where the formerly Arctic waters of the proposed NAWAPA XXI project would be. NAWAPA, like the Chinese South-to-North Water Diversion project, is based on the principle of a national (and in the case of NAWAPA, practically continental), not piecemeal, approach to water management. While China is two years ahead on their major water project, we in the U.S are almost 50 years behind in implementing NAWAPA! With Obama facing his own Watergate and the juggernaut for Glass-Steagall becoming almost unstoppable despite the efforts of some (namely Paul Volcker), we are in a good position to get shovels in the ground soon for such a real economic driver. The image of the future U.S. “under NAWAPA” can provide even more motivation in this fight to restore the U.S. to its principles, but once again, we also find ourselves looking towards Asia’s inspiring example.

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