Work has started on a project to move water from Shanxi province to Beijing in an effort to quench the thirst of a city struggling through its fifth year of drought. Water flowed from the Cetian Reservoir, the second largest in Shanxi, at the weekend and had been due to arrive in Beijing's Guanting Reservoir yesterday. But a long drought has lowered the water level of the Sanggan riverbed, so the first water will not reach the capital for a few days. This marks the first time Beijing has diverted water from outside the city into its reservoirs. Officials said only 50 to 60 per cent of the water would arrive at Guanting in Beijing's suburbs, with the remainder being lost during the 157km trip down the Sanggan river, which crosses Shanxi and Hebei provinces, state media reported. Wu Jisong, director of the Water Resources Department under the Ministry of Water Resources, said the project was a test of the Programme on Sustainable Water Resource Use in the early 21st Century. Under the programme, the Cetian and Dong Yulin reservoirs in Shanxi will supply between 60 million and 90 million cubic metres of water to Beijing every year until 2008, when water from the Yangtze river will be diverted to the capital. But experts say the move may not be sustainable. 'To supply Beijing with water from so far away is by no means cost-effective,' said Xie Xinmin, director of the Water Resources Configuration Centre at the China Institute of Water and Hydropower Resources. 'Most of the water will be lost en route. Plus, Shanxi and Henan lack water themselves.' He said that despite officials' efforts, Beijing's water shortage had not been solved, and bringing in water from elsewhere appeared to be the best solution to help ensure social stability. Beijing consumes four billion cubic metres of water a year and experts have called for curbs to its expansion.