09 November 2006

Water Flow in China's Yellow River Hits Record Low

CHINA: November 8, 2006

BEIJING - Water levels in the upper reaches of the Yellow River, China's second longest, have hit a historic low, Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday, after a senior official warned that China might run out of water by 2030.

Hot weather and low rainfall led to the dry-up, with water flow over the first 10 months of the year down nearly 33 percent from the long-term average.

The river, which supplies water to over 150 million people and irrigates 15 percent of the country's farmland, is also at serious risk from over-exploitation, Li Guoying, director of the Yellow River Conservancy Committee, told Xinhua.

Nearly two-thirds of the river's water is used for residential and industrial supplies, while international guidelines suggest a 40 percent limit, Li said.

Once known as China's sorrow because of its flooding, in recent years it has sometimes run dry before it reaches the sea.

From 1971 to 1998, its lower reaches were dry for 1,091 days although a new management system means there have been no entirely dry days since 1999, Xinhua said.

But China's increasing wealth and growing population means it faces an uphill challenge in managing its already-scarce water. The country is home to one-fifth of the world's population but has only 7 percent of its water resources.

Vice-Minister of Water Resources Hu Siyi expects the country will consume between 700 and 800 billion cubic metres of water annually by 2030, the South China Morning Post said on Tuesday.

But the country will only have around 800 billion to 900 billion cubic metres available.

With the country trying to clean up its air and cut back dependence on fossil fuels, low water levels cause another problem by denting hydropower generating capacity.

In October, water levels at key hydropower reservoirs nationwide were down 12 percent from a year earlier, meaning China was likely to rely more on dirty-burning coal and oil powered plants for its electricity supplies.


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