Mammoth Beijing canal to be completed this year
BEIJING (Reuters) - Work on a 300-km (190-mile) canal to bolster Beijing's scarce water supplies for the 2008 Olympic Games is expected to be "basically completed" by the end of this year, the Beijing News reported on Monday.
The canal, linking Shijiazhuang in neighboring Hebei province to the capital, would divert 300-500 million cubic meters of water from four Hebei reservoirs next year, the newspaper said, citing project officials.
The 17.4 billion yuan ($2.35 billion) aqueduct, eventually to be criss-crossed by 118 road bridges, was needed to guarantee supplies to the drought-stricken capital where reservoirs had dried up and water tables sunk dramatically, the paper said.
"By 2010 Beijing will face a deficit of 1 billion cubic meters of water," the Beijing News quoted Li Dawei as saying.
"Currently Beijing is over-exploiting its underground water. In 1999, water could be extracted at 12 meters below the surface. Now we need to dig down to 23 meters," said Li, who is deputy director of the project's construction and management office.
Over the same period, water in Beijing's Miyun reservoir had shrunk from 2.8 billion cubic meters to less than 1 billion, and its Guanting reservoir had contracted by 80 percent, Li said.
Beijing has pledged to ensure adequate drinking supplies for the 2.5 million visitors expected during the Olympics, but environmental officials have questioned the efficacy of pumping water from Hebei, itself suffering from dwindling supplies.
The Beijing-Shijiazhuang canal forms part of the middle route of the mammoth $25 billion South-to-North Water Diversion scheme, which aims to bring water from southern rivers to the arid north.
The quest to ensure the Hebei reservoirs remained flush for the Olympics had seen adjoining fishing lakes drained and local farmers ordered to stop sowing crops, the paper said.
"Before, 80 percent of the village's residents farmed fish and 10 percent worked in other places. Now, given the difficulty of sowing crops for Beijing's water supply, 90 percent of the labor force have left to work in other places," said Chen Erguo, chief of Zhengjiazhuang village.
The newspaper said heritage experts were worried that time was running out to save relics along the route of the pipeline.
Funding and time constraints meant few construction areas had been properly excavated, sparking fears that some relics would be damaged or lost forever, it quoted experts as saying.
(Editing by Roger Crabb)