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China's Water Problems Reach Olympian Proportions


Jun 18 2008, 07:10 PM (Post #1)
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QUOTE
As the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing draws near, spare a thought for a Chinese peasant named Yan. He lives in the mountains about an hour's drive north of the main Olympic Green, not far from the Great Wall. His village, Shijiayao, is wasting away.

That's because authorities in Beijing, bent on fueling the capital's epic growth, have commandeered nearly every drop of water they can pump from the surrounding countryside. Deprived of government help to drill wells or dam springs, Shijiayao's 30 inhabitants—all that's left of a population of about 300 peasants two decades ago—have no water to farm their terraced fields. They subsist on a rain-dependent crop and on raising a few scrawny donkeys, which they sell for cash or slaughter for meat.

Shijiayao's main water source is a seep in a notch in the barren mountainside, which drips about a dozen bucketfuls a day—except in summer, when it dries up completely. No one bathes in Shijiayao. Next month, while visitors to Beijing amble along man-made lakes and fountains at the grand Olympic Green and Olympic Forest Park, Shijiayao residents will trek about 12 miles a day for drinking water. Li Feng Xian, the village's 91-year-old matriarch, pleads with us to tell Shijiayao’s story and bring its inhabitants water.

Adding to these water woes: May's earthquake in south-central China that killed tens of thousands and injured about 250,000. The quake also sent engineers scurrying to inspect 400 dams across the nation, highlighting yet another risk of relying on distant water sources for a city the size of Beijing. What happens if the infrastructure fails?

Part of the problem is a decade-old drought that has sapped water supplies across northern China. But the main cause of Shijiayao's decline and the collapse of many other nearby villages goes back over a thousand years, to the demands of imperial Beijing—which is currently in a headlong rush to stoke economic growth in China's big cities. Even in wet years, peasants in the highlands north of the capital are no longer permitted to cultivate rice because growing the staple requires too much water. Instead, the runoff from their lands is captured for the Miyun Reservoir, Beijing's last repository of unpolluted surface water.

Now the Olympics are exacerbating China's water problems. To ensure enough potable water for an expected 1.5 million visitors in August, Beijing is tapping 80 billion gallons of so-called backup supply from four reservoirs in neighboring Hebei Province. Yet water levels in these reservoirs are already dangerously low. So to sustain the population boom on the semiarid Beijing plain, China's water planners are scrambling to build pipelines, canals, and water tunnels farther and farther into the hinterlands.

Worse, the water routed from Hebei to the Olympics site was supposed to shore up Lake Baiyangdian, an environmental jewel with its own drought problems. To feed the lake, China is pumping 40 billion gallons of water from the Yellow River in Shandong Province, 250 miles away. For every gallon from the Yellow River that arrives at the lake via the 1,400-year-old Grand Canal, nearly four gallons are lost along the way, according to the Dazhong Daily, a state newspaper in China.

Beijing itself is quietly sinking. With much of its surface water fouled by pollution—and a population that has exploded from 2 million in 1948 to 18 million today—the city relies on groundwater for most of its needs. But drought and overpumping are rapidly depleting the area's underground aquifer, causing sinkholes that have destroyed factories and homes. Subsidence is threatening sections of the Beijing-Shanghai railway line and parts of the city's international airport. "Subsidence security" is a major issue.

So it's easy to see why many Chinese environmentalists regard the splashy Olympic site in Beijing as a Potemkin village. The rowing and canoeing venue is on the Chaobei River, but the Chaobei hasn't flowed in nine years. To refill two miles of dry riverbed, organizers spent $57 million diverting 450 million gallons of water from the Wenyu River eight miles away. The Chaobei now boasts one of Asia's most potent fountains, its water jet thrusting 450 feet in the air.

Almost half of the Olympic events will take place at the Olympic Green, a symbol of China's pledge to throw a green Olympics. The 1,000 acres of wetlands, lawns, plazas, and stadiums are carved right into the concrete core of north-central Beijing. In 2004, as part of an effort to find an architecture firm for the Olympic Green and the adjoining Olympic Forest Park, China's Olympic organizers asked for bold ideas in urban ecology. Sasaki Associates of Boston won the contest with a blueprint for an aquatic landscape of rain-fed canals and lagoons designed to support wildlife in the urban park. Within months, though, the plan encountered problems. "We saw it all unravel before our eyes," says Mark Dawson, the project's leader.

Chinese officials were concerned that locals would hunt any animals or waterfowl reintroduced to the city, Dawson says. The officials opted instead for a shallower aquatic system—decorative, not ecological—fed by an existing canal just north of the site. The American designers knew that farmers and others depended on that canal for water and felt such a diversion would be counter to the spirit of the green Olympics that China had promised. In the end, the project was reassigned to several Chinese design institutes.

Beijing's water bank, in the surrounding Hebei Province, is broke. Among China's provinces, Hebei ranks near the bottom for available water resources in per capita terms, at just 12 percent of the national average. In southwest Hebei, an obelisk atop Xidayang Dam, a two-hour drive from Beijing on jammed country roads, bears slogans from Chairman Mao glorifying the "taming" of China's rivers. Built in 1958 by 84,000 workers, the dam created a reservoir that flooded 1,700 square miles, as well as the homes of 29,000 people. The reservoir supplies water to Baoding, a city of 11 million; next month, somehow, it will also supply the Olympics. Yet since 1996, its water level has steadily retreated; it's now at less than 30 percent of its capacity. The drought has left the dam and a pair of pipeline-control stations looming 10 stories above the reservoir.

Downstream, in Wangdu County, villagers have turned a dried-up, tree-lined canal into a garbage dump. A pipeline from Xidayang now bypasses the villages, carrying water destined for Beijing via a new cement-lined channel that workers are rushing to complete for the Games. In Yan's village of Shijiayao, summer rains cascade down the denuded mountainside, flooding paddy terraces and the access road. But with no storage facilities, the village can't save the runoff. Yan says his people have but one hope: that the sprawling capital will grow to engulf them and thus permit them to tap their own water supplies.


Source: http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/n.../portfolio_0618
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Jun 20 2008, 01:02 AM (Post #16)
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Perfect Solution: let's dump the flood water from the Mississippi River on Beijing!

>_>
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Jun 20 2008, 01:30 AM (Post #17)
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That sounds like a plan. A very very poorly thought out plan.
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Jun 20 2008, 01:49 AM (Post #18)
Here for the cute boys ;)
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Sure, I'll have some dirty water with my rice.
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Jun 20 2008, 02:37 AM (Post #19)
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Who needs water, rice is good enough. You could just drink the muck in the rice paddies.
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Jun 20 2008, 03:59 AM (Post #20)
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QUOTE (Roger Smith @ Jun 19 2008, 03:51 PM)
Though Tesla Coils seem a useless novelty, the are employed on a small scale in a number of things, spark plugs for example, which are in every car.
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Tesla coils are used to do multitudes of physics experiments and demonstrations. They have immense usefulness as academic and educational tools.
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Jun 20 2008, 04:00 AM (Post #21)
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I agree; please don't think I was belittling these things, I was speaking in terms of everyday life applications.
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Jun 20 2008, 04:36 AM (Post #22)
Well why can't we do the shuffle?!
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I think that boycotting the Olympics would be a good idea. It's more of an honor thing, I honestly don't know how the Olympic athletes could look themselves in the mirror. With all the problems in china right now, to support such an event is just purely honor less.

I think if no one came, China would be upset, and that's a lot of wasted money. As far as family being one of the things China cares about...well...it doesn't really look like it from my perspective. The government couldn't give a rats ass about family. It's all about the money.
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Jun 20 2008, 04:45 AM (Post #23)
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QUOTE (Nesticles @ Jun 19 2008, 08:36 PM)
I think that boycotting the Olympics would be a good idea.  It's more of an honor thing, I honestly don't know how the Olympic athletes could look themselves in the mirror.  With all the problems in china right now, to support such an event is just purely honor less.

I think if no one came, China would be upset, and that's a lot of wasted money.  As far as family being one of the things China cares about...well...it doesn't really look like it from my perspective.  The government couldn't give a rats ass about family.  It's all about the money.
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Whose interest is it for China to waste nearly a hundred billion dollars? How can you justify such an immense expenditure without reaping the expected benefits? Why are you so intent on bankrupting China anyway?

You should know what you're criticizing before you begin doing so. Everything you said up there is just a manifestation of western insecurity and jealousy at the mighty rise of the Middle Kingdom.
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Jun 20 2008, 05:12 AM (Post #24)
Here for the cute boys ;)
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QUOTE (Nesticles @ Jun 19 2008, 09:36 PM)
I think that boycotting the Olympics would be a good idea.  It's more of an honor thing, I honestly don't know how the Olympic athletes could look themselves in the mirror.  With all the problems in china right now, to support such an event is just purely honor less.

I think if no one came, China would be upset, and that's a lot of wasted money.  As far as family being one of the things China cares about...well...it doesn't really look like it from my perspective.  The government couldn't give a rats ass about family.  It's all about the money.
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One could apply many events to the logic you just employed. Do you think immigrants could look themselves in the mirror and see the egregious corruption, defunct political system, idiot president and wasted money that the United States has gotten itself into?

If we boycott China, then why didn't we boycott Australia for their treatment of the aborigines? Japan for war crime victims? The US for what it has done over the years?

Just wondering, what is the point of the Olympics to you?
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Jun 20 2008, 07:57 PM (Post #25)
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Aboriginal treatment in Australia hasn't been such a big, international issue as the others have. Japan's war crimes are indeed awful, perhaps worse than anything these countries are doing now, but, it is in the past and thus not as hot in the media, which is what shapes public opinion anyway. Just playing the devil's advocate, I happen to agree that boycotting the Olympics this year would not serve much of a purpose.
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Jun 20 2008, 08:54 PM (Post #26)
Here for the cute boys ;)
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I find it disturbing that we magnify other countries' problems here in the US, yet we seem to neglect our own. The slums of America (which indeed exist), gang violence, domestic violence and college alcoholism all exist to a great degree, are all seldom discussed, and little do those issues ever seem to do much to make it to the front page, but the car bombing in Pakistan, which might not have anything to do with Mr. Jones' welfare check seems all the rage. There's just something very wrong with that.
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Jun 20 2008, 09:44 PM (Post #27)
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Isn't there drinking and violence in Pakistan too?
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Jun 21 2008, 12:58 AM (Post #28)
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Sure, there are issues in every country, which is my point. Why have the Olympics at all if people are going to complain? If there are any perfect nations out there, please step forward.
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Jun 21 2008, 01:01 AM (Post #29)
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Finland at your service.
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Jun 21 2008, 01:03 AM (Post #30)
Here for the cute boys ;)
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Finland is perfect...? Explain.
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