Some Chinese provinces are looking into ambitious investment in water infrastructure in an effort to deal with the impact that extreme weather is having on agriculture and hydropower production, informs Reuters.
Low river flows as a result of drought in the south-west of the country have disrupted hydropower production, particularly in the province of Sichuan, where 80% of the energy comes from hydropower. The province, which produces 30% of the country’s hydropower, usually exports its surplus electricity to eastern coastal regions in China. However, last August Sichuan had to receive electricity from other provinces as its output decreased, while the demand surged because of air conditioner use to cope with extreme temperatures.
The authorities are also worried about the impact of the drought on agricultural production; it’s been suggested up to 20% of the country’s crop may be affected. Short term efforts to increase water for irrigation include cloud-seeding to induce rainfall, as well as new wells, but long-term water infrastructure is also being planned.
Twenty-five large projects, with a total cost of 1.7 trillion yuan ($246 billion), have been approved by the Ministry of Water Resources. China has historically built large-scale infrastructure for flow regulation and hydropower generation, such as the Three Gorges Dam. It is now undertaking the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, to transport water from the Yangtze basin to the arid north.
To address energy security concerns, China intends to build more dams on the upper stretches of the Yangtze, sparking concerns about their environmental impact, and their usefulness in the face of unpredictable weather. "If you're anticipating droughts, you want to have the highest water capacity, but in anticipation of severe floods, you want to have the lowest water level you can have", explained David Shankman, a geographer with the University of Alabama studying China's water resources. The need to retain enough water to produce hydropower adds even more complexity to reservoir operation.