Yet critics charge that the plan, along with smaller-scale efforts to stem China’s water crisis, creates new
long-term environmental risks. In May, the South China
Morning Post reported that the project—and pollution
from it—was already threatening the livelihood of farmers and fishermen living along the massive route.
“There’s successful precedent for moving water
around, but the SNWDP needs a little more time on
the drawing board,” says Brent Giles, PhD, senior analyst and head of the water intelligence practice at Lux
Research, based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. “China’s
top water priorities should be conservation and reuse.”
Lots of Projects—and Downstream Risks
China is no stranger to large-scale water projects. The eastern route of the SNWDP runs along a
similar route as the Grand Canal, the Beijing-to-Hangzhou waterway whose many sections were
connected into the world’s longest man-made river in the seventh century.
More recently, the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2006,
made China home to the world’s largest hydropower facility in 2012 when it reached its full capacity. That project, with an installed capacity of 22,500 megawatts, drew sharp stakeholder criticism
for displacing 1. 4 million people. The Yangtze River basin—home to the Three Gorges Dam and
source for much of the SNWDP—is the second-most engineered basin in the world, home to 353
dams along its 4,000 miles ( 6,437 kilometers).
The SNWDP is part of a spate of new projects to deal with China’s water woes. The government
has invested US$3.3 billion in desalination plants that will dot the east coast in coming years. A
project not officially associated with the SNWDP would divert water from the Yangtze to the Han
River to the north, while another proposed project would move water from the Three Gorges Reservoir to the Danjiangkou Reservoir.
But both within China and abroad, engineers and water resources experts are raising concerns
that projects as sprawling as the SNWDP create new long-term risks that project practitioners
PRECIOUS RESOURCE, MASSIVE PROJECTS
The need for reliable access to—and in some places, protection from—water has inspired some of the world’s largest projects.
Here are five that were begun or completed since the start of the century.
—Brent Giles, PhD,
Lux Research, Boston,
The flooding of the Yangtze River
above the Three Gorges Dam
displaced 1. 4 million people.
Location: Ras al-Khair, Saudi Arabia
Budget: US$7.2 billion
When completed, the Saudi Arabian
plant will be the largest desalination facility in the world. With a
projected daily processing capacity
of 1.025 million cubic meters (270.8
million gallons), it will surpass
Israel’s Sorek plant.
Location: Liangshan, China
Budget: CNY24 billion
The world’s tallest arch dam,
the Jinping-I station soars
305 meters ( 1,001 feet) in
height and will have a total
installed capacity of 3,600
Location: Saitama, Japan
Budget: US$2 billion
The world’s largest underground
floodwater diversion facility
stretches over 6. 5 kilometers
( 4 miles) and includes five
65-meter (213-foot)-deep silos
and a 177-meter (581-foot)-long
overflow tank dubbed the “