China’s water conservancy and hydropower projects on the Lancang River have been adhering to the principle of adjusting peaks to alleviate pressures of down-river countries at times of floods and droughts, said Li Guoying, the Minister of Water Resources.
Li made the remarks last Friday in an exclusive interview with CGTN in Beijing, in response to recent media reports questioning China’s role with its water conservancy projects on the upper reaches of the Lancang. The river is also known as Mekong in the lower reaches through Southeast Asia.
Li said China’s development and utilization of the Lancang River is mainly for hydropower. The hydropower projects do not consume water resources, but use water energy, and they can regulate natural runoff, he said.
“It relieves the flood control pressure of people in downstream countries,” he said. “Also, it meets the water demand of people along the river downstream during dry seasons.”
Li said the water resources of the Lancang River only accounts for about 15 percent of the total water resources in the entire Lancang-Mekong River Basin. And China’s consumption of water resources only accounts for one percent of the total water resources of the river basin.
The minister said countries in the region should keep strengthening upstream and downstream cooperation, taking care of each other’s concerns, deepening pragmatic cooperation in information sharing, people’s livelihood projects, and jointly improving the level of water security and utilization among the Lancang-Mekong countries.
The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism was launched by six countries – China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – in 2016. Minister-level meetings have been held almost yearly to discuss cooperation in water resource, environmental protection, health and economy.
South-to-north water diversion
During the interview, the minister said the South-to-North Water Diversion Project is another important task the ministry has been working on to ensure China’s water security.
China has been building infrastructure to divert water from its river-rich south to the dry north over the past decades. The eastern and central lines came into operation in 2014, enabling northern regions, including Beijing, to ease years of water shortage pains.
Since then, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been calling for follow-up work to build lifelines for people’s drinking water and economic growth.
Li said the Ministry of Water Resources has been evaluating the project, researching water-saving potential and studying major issues such as the construction, operation, and project management.
He pointed out that the work to promote the high-quality development of the follow-up project does not stop there. The most important of which is to build the national water network and comprehensively improve the national water source security capacity by taking the South-to-North Water Diversion project as the main framework.
The project, linking the Yangtze River to the Yellow River, Huaihe River and Haihe River, has diverted nearly 50 billion cubic meters of water from the south in the past seven years, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.
Prioritizing people’s lives and property
The year 2021 was characterized with extreme weather events in the country, from unprecedented rainfall in central China to spring and winter droughts in the south. When asked about how national water resources managed to withstand these tests, the minister said the water conservancy system has been working hard to cope with flood and drought conditions as flood and drought disaster prevention is the obligatory duty of water resources authorities.
Li emphasized that President Xi has demanded the protection of people’s lives and property should always be the priority.
“That is not only the criteria for judging the correctness of various protection plans, but also the fundamental goal that must be achieved in all water conservancy work,” said the minister.
Li further introduced the “four precautions” principles, namely forecasts, early warnings, rehearsals, and pre-arranged plans. He said the water resources authorities must take the four precautions on all river basins, floods and reservoir operations, as well as in river embankment protection, evacuations, the fight against drought, and water supply management.
Boosting water conservancy legislation
The Yangtze River Protection Law and a regulation on groundwater management came into effect last year. A draft of the Yellow River Protection Law was reviewed in December. When asked if there will be more of such laws and regulations, and what can be done to better implement the ones already in place, Li said the construction of the water conservancy legal system has two aspects, one is water conservancy legislation, and the other is water administrative law enforcement.
In terms of legislation, Li said the ministry will continue to actively support and cooperate with the review work of the draft Yellow River Protection Law as well as water conservation regulations. The authority will also work on the pre-legislative work of the regulations on river sand mining management and promote the revision of the Water Law. In terms of law enforcement, Li stressed that the next step is to establish and improve several working mechanisms, including the cross-regional linkage mechanism, the cross-departmental joint mechanism, and the “water administrative law enforcement plus pro-curatorial public interest litigation” collaboration mechanism.
China’s Ministry of Water Resources and the National Development and Reform Commission released a joint plan in January to improve water security during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, which covers the years 2021 to 2025. The minister further explained the major tasks from the plan.
The overall goal of the plan is to comprehensively enhance the capability of national water security, said the minister. He explained that the plan has four secondary goals, focusing on improving the ability to prevent floods and droughts and use water resources in an intensive and economical way, improving water resources allocation capacity and finally enhancing the ecological protection and governance capabilities on large rivers and lakes.