Lanzhou moots diverting water from Baikal

By Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/20 21:48:39

Local officials seek radical solutions to region’s problems of aridity

Officials in China's arid northwest are thinking outside the box when it comes to suggesting solutions to the region's water problems.

Urban planning authorities in Lanzhou, Northwest China's Gansu Province, have put together a proposal to divert water from the world's oldest and deepest freshwater body in Russia to alleviate local water shortages. The lake holds one-fifth of global surface fresh water. 

According to a statement from Lanzhou Urban & Rural Planning and Design Institute, since China has reached an agreement with Russia to construct a highway network and a gas pipeline,  the institute is suggesting that it would not be too difficult to build a water pipeline from Lake Baikal.

"This is a preliminary proposal and we are waiting for further approval from the local government," an expert from the institute who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times on Monday. He said that such a project could greatly improve the regional ecological environment.

He said that the pipeline, which would have an estimated length of more than 1,700 kilometers, could transport water from the lake to the Qilian Mountains in west Gansu and then to Lanzhou, the provincial capital. "Technology is not a problem. Diplomatic negotiations will depend on the local government," he said.

Chief designer of China's South to North Water Diversion Project in Beijing, Shi Weixin, cautioned that cost will be an issue, as well as ecological impacts on Lake Baikal. 

The South-to-North project has reduced any adverse influence on the ecosystem of the Yangtze River to a minimum  by controlling the water yield,  Shi said, adding that "the Lanzhou project should also figure out some ways to minimize the influence."

An employee from the South-North project, who asked for anonymity, said that they need to consider who would maintain and be responsible for above-ground sections of the pipeline, and how they can provide a steady electricity supply to the pumping stations under extreme cold weather. 

Back in 2005, Bian Hongdeng, president of an international investment corporation, proposed diverting water from the lake to Beijing, triggering public attention. However, soon after that, Gu Hao, an official from China's Ministry of Water Resources, denied to the Xinhua News Agency that there was "any plan to carry out research on a water diversion project from Lake Baikal, and China has never negotiated with any countries regarding  the project."

Mongolia is considering building one of the world's largest pipelines to transport water from the Orkhon River, which ultimately flows across the border to Lake Baikal,  to supply miners in the Gobi desert 1,000 kilometers away. However, environment groups worry that the project will do immeasurable environmental damage to Lake Baikal, The Conversation reported in 2015.

Calls to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment for comment went unanswered on Monday.

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