The South–North Water Transfer Project, also translated as the South-to-North Water Diversion Project[1] (Chinese: 南水北调工程; pinyin: Nánshuǐ Běidiào Gōngchéng) is a multi-decade infrastructure mega-project in the People's Republic of China. Ultimately it aims to channel 44.8 billion cubic meters of fresh water annually[2] from the Yangtze River in southern China to the more arid and industrialized north through three canal systems:[3]

Mao Zedong had discussed the idea for a mass engineering project as an answer to China's water problems as early as 1952. He reportedly said, "there's plenty of water in the south, not much water in the north. If at all possible; borrowing some water would be good."[5][6] The complete project was expected to cost $62 billion – more than twice as much as the Three Gorges Dam.[7] By 2014, more than $79 billion had been spent, making it one of the most expensive engineering projects in the world.[8]

Eastern route

The Eastern Route Project (ERP) consists of an upgrade to the Grand Canal, and will be used to divert a fraction of the total flow of the Yangtze River to Northern China. According to Chinese hydrologists, the entire flow of the Yangtze at the point of its discharge into the East China Sea is, on average, 956 km3 per year; the annual flow does not fall below around 600 km3 per year even in driest years.[9] As the project progresses, the amount of water to be diverted to the north will increase from 8.9 km3/year to 10.6 km3/year to 14.8 km3/year.[9]

Water from the Yangtze River will be drawn into the canal in Jiangdu, where a giant 400 m³/s (12.6 billion m3/year if operated continuously) pumping station was built in the 1980s. The water will then be pumped by stations along the Grand Canal and through a tunnel under the Yellow River and down an aqueduct to reservoirs near Tianjin. Construction on the Eastern route began officially on December 27, 2002, and water was expected to reach Tianjin by 2012. However, in addition to construction delays, water pollution has affected the viability of the route. Initially the route was expected to provide water for the provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu and Hebei, with trial operations to begin in mid-2013. As of early 2013, no date has been set when water will reach Tianjin. Tianjin is expected to receive 1 billion m3/year.[10] The Eastern route is not expected to supply Beijing which is to be supplied by the central route.

The completed line will be slightly over 716 miles (1,152 km) long, equipped with 23 pumping stations with a power capacity of 454 megawatts.[7]

An important element of the Eastern Route will be a tunnel crossing under the Yellow River, on the border of Dongping and Dong'e Counties of Shandong Province. The crossing will consist of two 9.3 m diameter horizontal tunnels, positioned 70 m under the riverbed of the Yellow River.[7][9]

Due to the topography of the Yangtze Plain and the North China Plain, pumping stations will be needed to raise water from the Yangtze to the Yellow River crossing; farther north, the water will be flowing downhill in an aqueduct.[9]

Central route

The central, or middle, route runs from Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han river, a tributary of the Yangtze River, to Beijing. This project involved raising the height of the Danjiangkou dam by increasing the dam crest elevation from 162 m to 176.6 m above the sea level. This addition to the dam's height allowed the water level in the reservoir to rise from 157m to 170 m above the sea level. And this, allowed the flow into the water diversion canal to begin "downhill", pulled by gravity, to the lower elevation of the canals.[11]

The middle route is built on and across the North China Plain. The canal was constructed so that gravity is the force pushing the flow of the water all the way from the Danjiangkou Reservoir to Beijing, without the need for pumping stations.[11] The greatest engineering challenge of the route was the building of set of twin tunnels under the Yellow River, to carry the canal's flow. Construction on the central route began in 2004. In 2008, the 307 km-long northern stretch of the central route was completed at a cost of US$2 billion. Water in that stretch of the canal does not come from the Han River but from reservoirs in Hebei Province, south of Beijing. Farmers and industries in Hebei had to cut back on water consumption to allow for water to be transferred to Beijing.[12]

On Google Maps, one can see the canal's intake at the Danjiangkou Reservoir (32°40′26″N 111°42′32″E / 32.67389°N 111.70889°E / 32.67389; 111.70889), its crossing of the Baihe River north of Nanyang, Henan (33°6′41″N 112°37′30″E / 33.11139°N 112.62500°E / 33.11139; 112.62500), the Shahe River in Lushan County, Henan (33°42′49″N 112°56′40″E / 33.71361°N 112.94444°E / 33.71361; 112.94444), the Ying River in Yuzhou, Henan (34°11′05″N 113°26′18″E / 34.18472°N 113.43833°E / 34.18472; 113.43833), and the Yellow River upstream from Zhengzhou (34°52′55″N 113°13′14″E / 34.88194°N 113.22056°E / 34.88194; 113.22056). The canal eventually reaches the southwestern suburbs of Beijing in the Juma River valley in Zhuozhou, Hebei (39°30′26.3″N 115°47′30.2″E / 39.507306°N 115.791722°E / 39.507306; 115.791722).

The whole project was expected to be completed around 2010. Final completion was in 2014 to allow for more environmental protections to be built along the route. One problem was the impact of the project on the Han River, below the Danjiangkou Dam,[5] from which approximately one-third of the water is diverted. One long-term solution being considered is to build another canal to divert water from the Three Gorges Dam to Danjiangkou Reservoir. On Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, the middle leg of China’s South to North Water Project, the world’s largest water transfer project to date, opened.[13]

Another major challenge was the resettlement of around 330,000 persons who were living near Danjiangkou Reservoir (at its prior, lower elevation), and along the route of the canal. On October 18, 2009, Chinese officials began to relocate residents from the areas of the Hubei and Henan provinces who were to be affected by the reservoir.[14] The completed canal route is approximately 1,264 km long, initially providing 9.5 km3 of water annually. By 2030, water transfers is expected to increase to 12 to 13 km3 annually,[7] although in dry years the annual amount transferred will be less (at least 6.2 km3, with a 95% guarantee rate).[11]

Industries are prohibited from locating on the reservoir's watershed to keep its water drinkable.[15]

South–North Water Transfer Project Central route starting point taocha in Xichuan
South–North Water Transfer Project Central route starting point taocha in Xichuan County, Nanyang, Henan

Western route

The western route, called the Big Western Line, is in the planning stage. It aims to divert water from the headwaters of the Yangtze River (the Tongtian, Yalong and Dadu Rivers) into the headwaters of the Yellow River. To move the water through the drainage divide between these rivers, huge dams and long tunnels are needed to cross the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and Western Yunnan Plateaus. This route is designed to bring 3.8 billion m3 of water from three tributaries of the Yangtze River about 450 km across the Bayankala Mountains to northwest China.[7] The Tongtian diversion line would be 289 km long, the Yalong 131 km, and the Dadu 30 km. The feasibility of this route is being studied; this project will not start in the near future. Environmentalists have raised concerns about potential flooding.[16] The respective rivers are entirely within China.

In addition, there are long-standing plans to divert about 200 billion cubic metres of water annually from the upstream sections of six rivers in southwestern China, including the Mekong (Lancang River), the Yarlung Zangbo (called Brahmaputra further downstream) and the Salween (Nu River), to the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and ultimately to the dry areas of northern China through a system of reservoirs, tunnels and natural rivers.[17] The project was considered too immense and costly to be undertaken at the time. The respective rivers are transboundary and any diversion would affect India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.


In 2008, construction costs for the eastern and central routes was estimated to be 254.6 billion yuan ($37.44 billion). The government had budgeted only 53.87 billion yuan ($7.9 billion), less than a quarter of the total cost, at that time. This included 26 billion from the central government and special accounts, 8 billion from local governments, and almost 20 billion in loans. As of 2008, around 30 billion yuan had been spent on the construction of the eastern (5.66 billion yuan) and central routes (24.82 billion yuan). Costs of the projects have increased significantly.[7]

Project controversy

Opponents of the project object to it for a number of reasons: it is a waste of resources; it could create a large number of migrants; it could waste massive amounts of water through evaporation and pollution; the project's huge cost would make the water prohibitively expensive for consumers; the dry season could cause the Yangtze River to run short of water; it would be detrimental to the Yangtze River's transportation system; and it could cause an environmental disaster. Additionally, some villagers, being relocated for the central route, claim they were forced to sign relocation agreements.[14]

In the summer of 2013, complaints arrived from the fish farmers on the Dongping Lake, on the project's Eastern Route, in Shandong, reporting that the polluted Yangtze River water entering the lake was killing their fish.[18]

Government officials and defenders of the project claim the Yangtze River has a plentiful supply of water, with 96% of the water currently flowing into the Pacific Ocean. They argue that transferring one portion to the poorly irrigated areas of the north could solve the north's water scarcity issue.[15]

See also


  1. ^ This is the English translation preferred by the official web site, http://www.nsbd.gov.cn/zx/english/
  2. ^ 南水北调工程. Xinhua Net (in Chinese). 2002-12-27. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Wang, Yue (2014-02-20). "Chinese Minister Speaks Out Against South-North Water Diversion Project". Forbes Asia. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Jaffe, Aaron; Keith Schneider (1 March 2011). "A Dry and Anxious North Awaits China's Giant, Unproven Water Transport Scheme". Circle of Blue. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Wong, Edward (2011-06-01), "Plan for China's Water Crisis Spurs Concern", The New York Times 
  6. ^ The quote is given as “南方水多,北方水少,如有可能,借一点也是可以的” in 作家作品:毛泽东与南水北调 (Mao Zedong and the South-to-North Water Diversion Project), by Jin HUaichun (靳怀堾), at the project's official web site.
  7. ^ a b c d e f South-to-North Water Diversion Project, China, Water-Technology.net, September 2008. Also archived here
  8. ^ http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/gordon-g-chang/china%E2%80%99s-water-crisis-made-worse-policy-failures
  9. ^ a b c d Eastern Route Project (ERP), on the official project site; includes the map. (As one can see from the context, "956 million m3" on that page is apparently a typo for "956 billion m3".
  10. ^ "Desalination: Costly drops". The Economist. 9 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Middle Route Project (MRP), at the project's official site
  12. ^ China's water-diversion scheme: A shortage of capital flows, The Economist, October 11, 2008, p. 61
  13. ^ World’s Largest River Diversion Project Now Pipes Water to Beijing
  14. ^ a b The Inquirer, Philadelphia: China to resettle 330,000 people, 19 October 2010
  15. ^ a b Al Jazeera English: China plans for future supply of clean water, 11 August 08
  16. ^ Simons, Craig (2006-09-10). "In China, A Water Plan Smacks Of Mao". Cox News Service. Archived from the original on 2007-09-11. Retrieved 2011-01-22. 
  17. ^ Craig Simmons. "Solving the Entire Chinese Water Crisis Archived 2010-10-19 at the Wayback Machine.", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via The Progress Report. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  18. ^ Chinese Water Diversion Project Kills Fish on Test Run, 2013-07-08

External links

Coordinates: 30°02′30″N 90°36′00″E / 30.0417°N 90.6000°E / 30.0417; 90.6000