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Vast amounts of water will be supplied to the country's arid northern regions within the next two years, when the first phase of the eastern and central routes of the South-to-North Water Diversion (SNWD) project is completed, officials have said.
By that time, urban and industrial water consumers in North China -- which contains drought-prone areas that have been hit by worsening water shortages -- are expected to access water from the Yangtze River via two major canals.
The SNWD project is designed to take water from the country's longest river, the Yangtze, in the south via an eastern, central and western route, to relieve the worsening water shortages.
The first phase of the eastern route will start to provide water by the end of 2013, transferring water from East China's Jiangsu province to Shandong province, Zhang Ye, deputy director of the SNWD project office under the State Council, told a countdown ceremony for the latest phase on Friday.
The first phase of the central route is expected to supply water from the Danjiangkou Reservoir in Central China's Hubei province to large cities including Beijing, starting in October 2014, he said. An average of 18.2 billion cubic meters of water will be supplied to the northern regions by the first phase of the project each year, according to the SNWD project office.
Since 2008, the Beijing-Shijiazhuang section of the central route of the SNWD project, linking reservoirs in Hebei with Beijing, began supplying water as an emergency measure to help ease water shortages in the capital.
So far, up to 1.17 billion cubic meters of water have been directed to the city, Zhang said.
Beijing needs about 3.6 billion cubic meters of water a year, which will increase to 4 to 5 billion cubic meters by 2020 as economic growth continues to surge, experts with Zhang's office said. More efforts such as ensuring construction quality and preventing water pollution should be strengthened for the project to meet its goals, Zhang said.
Up to 445,000 people along the two routes have to make way for the project. To date, 423,000 people have already been relocated with the last batch of residents in the Danjiangkou Reservoir area to be resettled, which will complete the exodus, he said.
This year, more than 64 billion yuan ($10.15 billion) will be invested in the water diversion project, he said.
So far, 141.7 billion yuan, or two-thirds of its total investment, has been used, official figures showed.
The western route, meant to replenish the Yellow River with water diverted from the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, is still at the blueprint stage.