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UPDATED: May 26, 2009
Ex Water Chief: China Won't Divert World's Highest River to Thirsty North
The Chinese government has no plan to divert the Yarlung Zangbo River to the Yellow River

China doesn't plan to supply its thirsty north with water from world's highest river, which originates in Tibet, China's former water chief said Monday.

"The Chinese government has no plan to divert the Yarlung Zangbo River to the Yellow River," former water minister Wang Shucheng told a water resources seminar. The river is also known as the Tsangpo River.

With an average altitude of 4,500 meters, the Yarlung Zangbo River is the highest in the world. It originates in glacial regions of the northern Himalayas, runs 2,057 kilometers through Tibet in western China, passes into India and finally meets the Indian Ocean in the Bay of Bengal.

Wang rejected including the Yarlung Zangbo River in the western route of China's south-to-north water diversion project, designed to shift water from the water-rich south of the country, mainly the Yangtze, the country's longest river, to the dry north including Beijing.

"It is unnecessary, infeasible and unscientific to include the Yarlung Zangbo River in the western route of the massive project," Wang told an audience of 100 officials and scholars from 10 countries, including former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

The seminar was co-organized by the China Institute for International Strategic Studies, a non-governmental think tank, and the Hong Kong-based Michael Eric Bosman Hotung Foundation, a non-profit organization.

The south-north project, the largest such project ever undertaken, consists of eastern, central and western routes. The eastern and central routes are already under construction, while the western route, meant to replenish the Yellow River with water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze through aqueducts in the high mountains of western China, is still at the planning stage.

"The Yangtze, with annual capacity of one trillion cubic meters of water, is abundant enough to deal with the ecological, economic and social demand for water along the Yellow River," Wang said.

"The ten billion cubic meters annually from the Yangtze will generate significant improvements for the Yellow River while having almost no impact on the longest river," Wang said.

As for a proposal to diverting 200 billion cubic meters annually from the Yarlung Zangbo River to the Yellow River, Wang said such volumes would damage many dams and embankments along the latter river.

Wang dismissed another suggestion that water diverted from the highest river be channeled into Qinghai Lake, the country's biggest saline lake. "Mixing fresh water with saline will cause serious chemical changes," Wang said.

Planned for completion in 2050, the south-north water project will eventually divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of water annually to the population centers of the drier north.

(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2009)

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