The China Quarterly

China's Environment

Environmental Issues and the South-North Water Transfer Scheme

Liu Changming*

China has good resources of land and water. The problem is that they are often not in the same place. The south, which is water-rich, is too hilly for extensive farming. The North China Plain is flat, like France or the Ukraine, but lacks water. It produces 27 per cent of China's grain, but at the cost of serious stresses on its water resource. Deficits in the surface water supply have led to intensified use of the groundwater well beyond the “safe yield” where recharge balances withdrawal. Hence the water table has fallen greatly under both rural and urban areas ever since electric- or diesel-powered tubewells became widespread in the early 1970s. In addition to increased pumping costs and the need to bore ever deeper wells, consequences have included land subsidence, compressing the emptied aquifer in a number of areas and salt water intrusion in coastal areas.


* This study is supported by a key project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1997-2000.I would also like to thank James E. Nickum, Robert F. Ash and Richard Louis Edmonds fortheir comments and suggestions.