In an enormous effort to bring water from the wet Southern areas of China to the dry, growing industrial regions of the North, China’s multi-decade water infrastructure project is nearing partial-completion at an estimated cost of over $79 billion.
Nearly a half century since the project's inception under the rule of Mao Zedong, the controversial South-North Water Transfer Project will reach partial operation as work finishes on the eastern portion of the canal project by mid-2013.
The project’s primary goal is to move water from the Yangtze River to the Yellow and Hai Rivers to the North, allowing for China’s rapidly growing cities in the region to meet skyrocketing water demands. The project consists loosely of three separate routes – Western, Central, and Eastern – with only the latter nearing full operational status by midway through next year.
The effort has drawn criticism not only for its jaw-dropping price tag, but also worries about environmental impact, water evaporation, and the millions of people displaced by the massive construction effort. Defenders say that more than 96 percent of the Yangtze River currently flows unused into the Pacific, and that smart management can help solve the North’s growing water crisis.
Work on the 1,890 kilometer eastern canal route began in the last few days of 2002, with the central route – which began in 2003 – expected to be completed by 2014.