Wednesday, October 12, 2011

China rules out Brahmaputra diversion

China rules out Brahmaputra diversion
BEIJING, The Hindu, October 13, 2011
Ananth Krishnan

Technical difficulties, state relations cited as reasons

A top Chinese Water Resources Ministry official has ruled out any plan
to divert the Brahmaputra river's waters to tackle water shortages, even
as hydropower industry groups have renewed calls on the government to
lift a suspension on dam projects on the river's fast-flowing upper and
middle reaches to address a power crisis.

Jiao Yong, Vice Minister of Water Resources, said at a briefing here on
Wednesday that China had no plans to divert the Brahmaputra, or Yarlung
Tsangpo as it is known in Tibet, considering "technical difficulties,
environmental impacts and state relations," referring to India's
concerns. Every year, Mr. Jiao noted, 166.1 billion cubic meters of
water from the Brahmaputra flows outside China's borders.

Mr. Jiao's comments come amid calls by some Chinese experts for a
rethink on the Western diversion plan to tackle water shortages in
China's arid north. In recent months, some Chinese hydro-engineering
experts, such as Wang Guangqian of Tsinghua University's State Key
Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering, have argued that the
diversion project was feasible with recent technological advancements.

The Water Resources Ministry has, however, voiced opposition both to
diversion plans and proposed hydropower projects to tap the river's
ecologically sensitive upper reaches.

Influential State-run hydropower companies have been campaigning for the
government to kick-start suspended plans for 28 proposed dams on the
Yarlung Tsangpo, leaving the future of the projects uncertain.

The calls for the hydropower dams have grown louder this year, in the
wake of a power crisis triggered by the worst drought in five decades
that struck the Yangtze river this summer.

Mr. Jiao said on Wednesday China planned to harness more than 5,000
rivers over the next five years, and double its annual spending on water
conservation to reach 4 trillion yuan ($ 635 billion) over the next decade.

Zhou Xuewen, chief planner of the Ministry of Water Resources, said most
of the spending — 38 per cent — would be used for flood control and
disaster reduction water and soil conservation projects, with another 35
per cent invested in water-supply projects. The rest, he said, would be
used for farmland irrigation projects.

In June, Zhang Boting, deputy secretary general of the Chinese Society
of Hydropower Engineers, told The Hindu in an interview that a power
shortage this year meant that China had "to build more hydroelectric dams".
'Technology sufficient'

He disagreed with the assessment from the Water Resources Ministry that
building hydropower projects on the Brahmaputra river's upper reaches
posed technical difficulties. The technology, he said, was "sufficient",
except in the "Great Bend" of the river, where the Tsangpo turns towards
India — a terrain, he said, where "it is difficult to put in equipment."

Despite the difficulties, Sinohydro, a major State-owned hydropower
company, has put up a proposal on its website for a 38-gigawatt plant at
Motuo, near the Great Bend, a project which Mr. Zhang said could save up
to 100 million tonnes of coal.

Hydropower projects, he said, unlike diversion plans, would not affect
India, although many experts say even large run-of-the-river dams, such
as the one proposed at Motuo, could impact downstream flows.

Last November, China began damming the Yarlung Tsangpo for the first
major hydropower project on the river, a 510 MW run of the river project
at Zangmu, which will come into operation in 2014.

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