Yunnan government officials are considering mitigating the province's ongoing four-year drought, in part, by diverting the Jinsha River (金沙江). A recently issued white paper describes plans to resurrect water engineering projects along what are the primary headwaters of Asia's largest river — the Yangtze.
Provincial Party Secretary Qin Guangrong (秦光荣) initially discussed the project publicly in early May. The current proposal, referred to as Central Yunnan Water Diversion (滇中引水), comes with an estimated price tag of 68 billion yuan (US$11.08 billion).
The scheme would annually channel 3.42 billion cubic meters of water away from the current course of the Jinsha River. The intent is to redirect that water some 877 kilometers southeast through many of the province's most populated areas.
The river would be rerouted near Benzilan (奔子栏) in Yunnan's far northwest, through Lijiang, Dali, Chuxiong, Kunming, Yuxi and smaller cities in Honghe prefecture. According to the white paper, the water will be used primarily for drought alleviation in agricultural areas.
Other goals include meeting industrial and residential water requirements as well as flushing Dianchi Lake clean of pollution. However, drought mediation seems to be the most important goal of the diversion plan.
Yunnan's yearly rainfall is erratic, but the last four years have seen rainfall levels dip below historical averages. Some areas, such as Shilin County (石林县), have received their lowest recorded rainfall in the past 49 years.
The water levels of Yunnan's nine largest lakes have dropped by an average of 0.7 meters over the last year. Government estimates say more than 24,000 square kilometers of the province have been directly affected by the drought, leading to projected economic losses of 39.6 billion yuan (US$6.45 billion).
The proposal to reroute water from the Jinsha River must be reviewed by the National Ministry of Water Resources. How this will impact the downstream economies of China's most prosperous cities or the worlds largest hydroelectric power plant — The Three Gorges Dam — has yet to be determined.
If former plans, such as damming Tiger Leaping Gorge and the oft-stalled construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Jinsha River are any indication, it may take years for officials to decide on this behemoth scheme.
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