Water authorities have denied media reports earlier this month that the mainland’s mammoth South-North Water Diversion project is to blame for unusual droughts in parts of central China’s Hubei and Henan province.
The intention of the scheme is to draw 44.8 billion cubic metres of fresh water from the Yangtze River, in southern China, up through three eastern, central and western canal routes to the arid, industrialised north .
The project's central route, which passes through the two provinces, had yet to be put into full operation and, therefore, should not affect water levels in the region, an official at the Yangtse River Water Resources Commission was quoted by the People’s Daily as saying.
Lowered water levels in the Han River, the source for the central route, had been caused by reduced water flow from upper reaches, Li Mingxin, deputy director of the commission’s water resources research centre, told the state newspaper.
The newspaper also quoted a Henan provincial official as saying that drought-hit areas in the province were not located in the Han River’s Danjiangkou Reservoir region, the major source of water for the central route.
There has been 60 per cent less rainfall in parts of Henan since June compared with normal levels over the period, making this summer the driest since 1961, said the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
Hubei had seen 20 per cent less rainfall than usual over the summer, which had led to more than 100 small reservoirs and 50,000 lakes dried up, it said.
“Henan would be benefiting from the South-North Water Diversion project instead of being affected,” said Yang Biantong, spokesman of the province’s flood control and drought relief headquarters office.
He said after the central route started operating in October, Henan would get 3.7 billion cubic metres of extra water each year.
Li said since the early 1990s, water levels along the Han River had fallen and remained low as the area entered a drought cycle, which could often last for between 23 and 26 years.
However, he said that since 2000 the river’s water levels had been rising, although they still remained below average levels.
Despite this, the river would still be able to meet the goal of contributing 9.5 billion cubic metres of water annually to the north, he said.
China is pushing ahead with the project, expected to cost more than 500 billion yuan (HK$620 billion), which is the world’s largest water-distribution scheme.
The eastern route will transfer water north to cities in Shandong province, including Dezhou, Jinan and Weihai, where urbanisation has ravaged local resources.
Government accounts say the eastern route will help relieve a water scarcity crisis in the parched north, eventually benefiting 100 million people
Operation of the eastern route started at the end of last year, while the central route is currently on trial operation. However, plans for a western route are still in limbo, with experts deeply divided over the issue because of ecological concerns.