China’s $62-billion river diversion project might be the next Great Wall

I suspect that when the plans for the Great Wall of China; were presented to the then Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, he might have remarked at the audacious approach chosen by the engineers. Back then the idea for the wall was to simply fortify their expanding territory, an effort which culminated in the creation of one of the most remarkable world wonder.  This time around, engineers are faced with an equally ambitious project albeit with a different set of challenges.  The challenge is to reroute some of the country’s waterways and direct them to Beijing.  Ambitious? Yes. Practical? Apparently so, given that the communist party appears to have staked enormous prestige on the success of the project, and even allocated a hefty price tag of $62-billion.

The project traces its origin to a comment made in 1952  by Chairman Mao who reportedly proposed that since there was  “a lot of water in the south, but not much in the north,” then they could “borrow some, then everything would be OK.”   In simple terms, the completed project will channel water from the flood plains of China’s south and the snow-capped mountains of the west all the way to Beijing.

Scope of the project

The project encompasses three major components: The 885-mile eastern line from Hangzhou to Beijing, which mostly follows the route of the Grand Canal and is hoped to be ready by 2013. The middle line, which is supposed to open in 2014, runs 766 miles, although it might be extended. The western section, which is still in the planning stages, would funnel water from the Tibetan plateau. But with serious cost overruns and delays on the eastern and middle routes, there are doubts about whether the third line will be built at all.

It is clearly obvious that such a project carries a sizable number of challenges. Nevermind the obviously complicated hydrology and ecological factors, the project has faced objections from environmentalist and preservationists alike.  According to one pro-democracy activist, “the project is robbing the water of the rest of China to supply Beijing.”

Objections aside, the project is flowing along as planned.

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