Canadian Consulting Engineer

Yellow River Water and Flood Management Study

October 1, 2007
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Yellow River watershed encompasses almost 800,000 square kilometres, an area about 20% larger than Alberta, with a population of 235 million people.

The Yellow River watershed encompasses almost 800,000 square kilometres, an area about 20% larger than Alberta, with a population of 235 million people.

The river is prone to extreme conditions, with major flood events and droughts so severe that long reaches can dry up. In 1997 a 700-kilometre reach had a dry bed for 226 days.

Rapid economic and industrial development in recent years has increased the stresses on the river system, as well as affecting the water quality.

The Yellow River Conservancy Commission, part of the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, has the monumental task of managing the water system. The commission operates a large number of control facilities such as dams, reservoirs, dykes, sluices and pump stations.

The commission is currently developing a management system called the Digital Yellow River Project. Its goal is to apply advanced technologies to improve the river management as an alternative to adding physical structures. The challenges include flood control, sedimentation control, water supply and environmental protection.

As part of this project, Golder Associates was the lead firm for a 2 1/2 year “Yellow River Water Resources and Flood Management Optimization Study.” The study was completed in July 2006. The work included assessing two leading edge Canadian technologies, implementing them through working models and assessing the effectiveness of the measures applied.

The study was an international cooperation program that involved transferring and adapting Canadian technologies to China. In collaboration with the Information Center of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission, the Canadian study team included experts from Golder, MDA Geospatial Services and Dr. Slobodan Simonovic of the University of Western Ontario. Over 50 Canadian and Chinese professionals were involved.

Mapping software

Using Canadian RADARSAT-1 data, Golder developed and tested a software tool for automatically mapping floods. Golder also developed a software tool for assessing flood damage in real-time. The system involved a digital elevation model of the terrain, land use information, and flood damage modelling. The system was successfully tested on the most flood-prone lower reaches of the Yellow River (about 800 kilometres in length) and found to be effective.

Water resources management model

The other phase of the study involved pilot testing of the Canadian Water Resources Management Model (WRMM), which was developed by Alberta Environment. The model was applied to the Yellow River’s main stem to assess the key water management issues. Using a scenario approach, the model was able to show the benefits of using certain operating policies, especially for maintaining increased flows, for flushing sediments, and maintaining higher reservoir levels than had been kept historically. Upon reviewing the Canadian tool’s capabilities, the Yellow River Conservancy Commission concluded that it is the most suitable one from among all the domestic and international models that have been evaluated to date.

The commission plans to implement the water resources management model technology in stages. The first stage will apply it to water allocations and real-time operations.

International cooperation

An integrated team with complementary strengths was assembled for the project. The Chinese members were primarily responsible for data collection and detailed software and model applications. Golder provided overall technical design and provided the approach and methods for integrating the Canadian technologies into the Yellow River application. The study included a large number of exchange visits in Canada and China, totalling over 1,000 days.

Social and economic benefits

The Yellow River Conservancy Commission assessed the study as one of its most successful international cooperation projects and showcased the results over two days during the Second International Forum on Yellow River held in China in October 2005.

The expected social, economic and environmental benefits of applying the Canadian technologies to managing the watershed were analyzed as part of the study. It was estimated that the reduced impact of flooding would benefit between 10,000 to 120,000 people, and a more secure water supply would benefit the entire population of 235 million. The cost of applying the RADARSAT and WRMM technologies to the full Yellow River basin are estimated to be US $8.4 million, yielding a cost-benefit ratio of 75 to 150.CCE

Name of project: Yellow River Water Resources and Flood Management Optimization, China

Owner/in-country partner: Yellow River Conservancy Commission, YRCC Information Center, Chinese Ministry of Water Resources

Award-winning firm/prime consultant: Golder Associates, Calgary (Dr. Zengshan Duan, John Fairs, Justin McPherson, Robert van Wyngaarden, Dr. Hua Zhang, P.Eng., Rena Guenduez, Susan Ross, Dr. Nesa Ilich, P.Eng., Dr. Dejiang Long)

RADARSAT data supplier: MDA Geospatial Services

Water management advisor: Professor Slobodan Simonovic

Funding contributors: YRCC, Canadian International Development Agency, Golder Associates, MDA Geospatial Services


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