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Chinese Water Management: Supply, Demand, and a Changing Climate

Oct 28 , 2014

Like the United States, India, and other nations, the guarantee and distribution of fresh water to meet the needs of population growth, industrial agriculture, and changing climatological circumstance has relied on massive, centrally-planned water schemes — combinations of dams, reservoirs, pipelines, and canals — to accumulate water in areas where it is plentiful and move it to where it is not. The Tennessee Valley Authority and the California Water Project in the United States are primary examples.

And yet, even these have not been able to meet 21st century demand, and projects for future needs indicate critical geographical imbalance and inevitable inequality. Add to this the impact of climate change (drought, fire, extreme weather) and as the citizens of California are discovering today, such schemes are woefully inadequate.

China, as the newest and most rapidly developing population and industrial state, is no exception. In 2013, China opened the first phase of a massive engineering initiative designed to redistribute supply from water-rich area of the upper Yangtze River to the drought-parched plain surrounding the Beijing, in response to a need seen as a threat to production, health, and political stability. The second phase, recently opened, added 793 miles connecting Danjiangkou Dam in central China to the capital, at a total cost estimated in excess of $49 billion.

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