Canadian Consulting Engineer

China embarks on $60 billion system of canals and aqueducts

March 24, 2003
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Already building the massive Three Gorges Dam project -- the largest construction site in the world, China has now...

Already building the massive Three Gorges Dam project — the largest construction site in the world, China has now embarked on an even bigger water diversion project.
The country started construction on the South-North Water Diversion project late last year. Using a network of elaborate channels and tunnels, the project will divert 48 billion cubic metres of water per year from the Yangtze river northwards to the Yellow River, on its way supplying 39 cities, including Beijing.
The project — said by China to be the biggest hydraulic project in the history of the world — has been on the table ever since Mao Tsetung first thought of it in 1952. Over 50 million people in the increasingly arid north will benefit from the water, but on the other hand, over 320,000 people — a number equivalent to the population of Mississauga, Ontario — will have to move from their homes.
In an article in Quebec Science in June 2002, reprinted in the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba’s newsletter, Mr. V.L. Dutton, P.Eng. (retired) of Manitoba described the formidable technical and environmental challenges that confront the 12-year project.
He explained that in addition to canals, many aqueducts and tunnels, up to 1,000 kilometres in length, will be needed to traverse the east-west mountain ranges to carry the water north. There are concerns about evaporation in the canals and losses through fissures in the rock foundations. Ecologists are worried about the ecological impact on the flora and fauna of connecting water systems that have been separated for millions of years.
The western section of the hydraulic system will be the most tricky from an engineering point of view where the water will be carried across the Tibetan plateau at elevations of up to 6,000 metres above sea level. Very large conduits are required to prevent the water freezing, and massive pumps will have to keep the flow moving.
The entire project is estimated to cost 60 billion dollars and take 12 years. The Three Gorges Dam, a highly controversial project, plagued by corrupt officials who have allegedly been siphoning off funding, is expected to be completed in 2009. It is costing $20 billion and requires the relocation of 1.8 million people.


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