China Dealing with "Dead Water" As Drought Dries Reservoirs

last of the water photo

Photo by AndyRob via Flickr CC

A massive drought in Central China has residents worried about where they'll get water to irrigate fields and how they'll provide drinking water to villages. Some reservoirs are so low, there is only "dead water" or just enough for emergency pumping only. The issue is calling in to question the major dam projects the country has created, including the major South-North Water Diversion that will reroute water to Beijing. The New York Times reports, "A severe drought along the Yangtze River region in central China has rendered nearly 1,400 reservoirs in Hubei Province temporarily unusable, devastated farm fields and made drinking water scarce... The drought, which has lasted for five months, has brought water levels in the middle part of the Yangtze to a near-record low. For the second time since the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, began operating, officials have had to make emergency water discharges from it to help ease the drought."

Thus far, one quarter of small reservoirs have "dead water" remaining, which is emergency-only water, and 1,388 small reservoirs have less than the allowable discharge levels for irrigation, leaving farmers high and dry.

The drought and subsequent water shortages has brought the controversy behind the South-North Water Diversion back into the limelight. Circle of Blue has covered the issue extensively, and notes, "China's plan is to remove nearly 36 billion cubic meters (9.5 trillion gallons) of water every year from the Yangtze River Basin--which drains much of the nation's central and western regions--and ship it north. That is tantamount to reversing the flow of the Missouri River--which drains the Great Plains and part of the Northwest in the United States--and sending it back to Montana."

The controversy, of course, centers on the idea of who really should get the water -- the north which is already facing a water crisis, or the south which is starting to feel the pinch. Both badly need water, but the fact is the country is outpacing its resources.

And this current drought is underscoring the fears China has about what happens when the water runs out.

According to the New York Times article, "As of Saturday, the drought had left 315,000 people and 97,300 head of livestock in Hubei short of drinking water, and more than two million acres of farmland had been affected, Xinhua reported. In neighboring Henan Province, the drought had affected at least 320,000 people."

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More on China's Water Woes
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