The project to divert the Yangtze River to quench the capital's thirst will not be finished by 2010 as originally scheduled, says Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng .
The postponement of the central route for the South-North Water Diversion Project was mainly because of funding shortages and rising costs, Mr Wang said.
'Apart from price rises for materials, the money needed for pollution control and water and soil conservation, which used to be listed as separate items, has been considered part of the project's total budget,' he said.
Shaanxi delegates attending the annual meeting of the National People's Congress complained about poor funding in tackling pollution and for compensating farmers affected by the central route.
The route plans to divert one billion cubic metres of water, as much as a third of the annual flow of the Han River, a major tributary, from Hubei's Danjiangkou Dam to Beijing by 2010. The arrival date of the Yangtze water was reset for next year before the start of the Olympic Games by Mr Wang's colleague Li Guoying, director of the ministry's Yellow River Water Conservancy Committee.
Mr Wang said: 'It is merely symbolic to say the water from the Yangtze can be supplied to Beijing.' Instead, up to 300 million cubic metres of water from four large reservoirs in Hebei will be used to help the capital overcome its water shortage in the lead-up to the Games.
Mr Wang's ministry is the main supporter of the project - costing hundreds of billions of yuan - despite growing fears over its effectiveness, the environmental impact of worsening pollution and water shortages in the Yangtze region, and the relocation of about 250,000 people.
The minister dismissed such concerns, saying the project was necessary to address shortages in the north.
The south-north project was a must given the appalling pollution in the north and the serious overuse of underground water in the region covered by the Yellow, Huai and Hai rivers, said Mr Wang.