China’s Water Investment

China’s latest 10-year plan, which came out in January, includes what seems to me like a staggeringly large investment in trying to better manage its water:

The country will invest 4 trillion yuan ($608 billion) into projects during the next decade to improve water conservation, Chen Xiwen, director of the office for the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee’s Leading Group on Rural Work, said on Sunday….

The country aims to double its average annual spending on water conservation over the next 10 years compared to the 200 billion yuan investment in 2010, according to the document, also known as the No 1 document.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization issued a warning earlier this month about drought conditions in northern China, and the potential impact on the country’s wheat crop:

Substantially below-normal rainfall since October 2010 in the North China Plain, the country’s main winter wheat producing area, puts at risk the winter wheat crop to be harvested later in the month of June.

Low precipitation resulting in diminished snow cover has reduced the protection of dormant wheat plants against frost kill temperatures (usually below -18°C) during winter months from December to February.

Low precipitation and thin snow cover have also jeopardized the soil moisture availability for the postdormant growing period. Thus, the ongoing drought is potentially a serious problem.

China’s current problems suggest that investment and attention to water issues are a welcome development. But even with the money, effectively moving forward on China’s water management problems will not be easy, Chaoqing Yu of the Center for Earth System Science and the Institute for Global Change Studies, Tsinghua University in Beijing wrote in last Friday’s Nature. He sketches out a set of problems that will doubtless sound very familiar to folks working on water policy and politics here in the United States:

To tackle water issues in China, one problem that must be addressed is the scattering of authority across different agencies. At present, major rivers are managed by the Ministry of Water Resources, whereas local governments control smaller water courses. Water supply, farmland irrigation, groundwater, water pollution and weather forecasting are separately administrated by, respectively, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Land and Resources, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the State Meteorological Administration.

Data on precipitation, river runoff, groundwater, land use, pollution and water use are not shared between governmental agencies, or made accessible to the public. It will be difficult to implement the holistic policy laid out in the No 1 Document without breaking down these bureaucratic barriers.

As a starting point, China needs to build an integrated network to monitor surface and groundwater, and use it to assess and set water policies through an integrated water-resource management system. And for this to happen, China needs a law that sets out clear policies on data sharing, and penalties for those who do not comply.


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  2. David –

    I’m hampered by the language barrier, and the English-language coverage I found last night when I was writing this didn’t answer your question. But given what I’ve read about the project in the past, and about China’s intentions, I’m hard pressed to believe it *doesn’t* include funding for the north-south project.

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