China diverts 10 billion cubic meters of water to arid north in massive project

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has transferred 10 billion cubic meters of fresh water from the country’s south to its drought-prone north in the few years since a massive water diversion project came onstream, authorities said on Tuesday.

In recent decades, water supplies in north have been challenged by protracted droughts, a surging population, agriculture, and unprecedented manufacturing growth.

China aims to ultimately supply 44.8 billion cubic meters annually to the north via the ambitious water diversion project. That would be about seven percent of the volume of water consumed by the entire country in 2015.

The expensive engineering project, which involves transferring water from the south via three major routes, was first mooted as early as the 1950s.

Along the middle route, the water pumped from the Yangtze River has gone to Beijing, Tianjin and the provinces of Henan and Hebei, according to the South-to-North Water Diversion Office under the State Council, or Cabinet.

The middle route carries water through canals, water highways and pipelines from Danjiangkou reservoir in central Hubei Province. It came into operation in late 2014.

The project has supplied 2.7 billion cubic meters of water to Beijing, serving 11 million people.

Currently about 70 percent of Beijing’s water supply comes from the project. Previously the city’s water supply came mainly from underground water.

Tianjin received 2.2 billion cubic meters of water while Henan and Hebei got 3.5 billion cubic meters and 1.1 billion cubic meters, respectively.

China aims to keep national annual water consumption below 670 billion cubic meters through to 2020, as part of efforts to ease chronic regional shortages by cutting waste and boosting efficiency.

Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry