China's Disappearing Rivers: Is Climate Change to Blame?



Renmants of dried up Shiyang River next to coal plant. (More photos at link.)

China's Disappearing Rivers: Is Climate Change to Blame?

China's recently published "water census" shows that as many as 28,000 rivers have vanished from the country since the 1990s. It's a trend, the report suggests, that's likely to continue. But the causes of this problem are a little murkier. The "census" offers no reason for the disappearance of so many water sources.

In some places, like Minqin, where the Shiyang River has run dry, Beijing insists that climate change is to blame. Residents disagree. The government built a sizable upstream reservoir nearby two decades ago to irrigate a large farm. That cut off the water supply for residents.

Regions like Gansu, where Minqin is located, are some of the country's driest. And the government tends to rely on big projects like giant dams and diversion channels to address its water problems. Desperate for growth, officials are, in some cases, choosing between water and electricity.

"China is looking always at mega-projects rather than addressing the root causes," Zhou Lei, a fellow at Nanjing University who studies the affects of industry on the environment, tells Reuters. "They experiment with technologies to treat the problem, like the water transfer projects being done right now, but they are draining resources in a very wrong way."

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Abstract:Effects of climate change and human activities on runoff in the Nenjiang River Basin, Northeast China

There is no denying that dam projects (particularly the Three Gorges Dam Project) and various diversion schemes (reminiscent of Russia's diversion of the Aral Sea) have been a factor in this. However, I too agree that climate change is now having an overriding effect in China due to increased flooding, drought and heatwaves (evaporation) that all effect water levels and exacerbate schemes to cope with it. Also, the realization that burning coal is adding to the effects of climate change and water scarcity has led to a dangerous increase in hydro-power dams that in the end wind up exacerbating the very problems that have led to the crisis.

Integrating conservation with sustainable agriculture and renewable energy sources such as solar while working to scale back on these temporary fixes would go a long way to preserving the resources China still has. It is truly sad to see this happening, but it is a stark example of how unbridled use of resources to attain progress without proper planning ends up being counterproductive to the initial goal.



The effects of climate change on agriculture due to its effects on water will make it imperative for more agricultural collectives, community agriculture and initiatives to conserve water as well as working to fight pollution.

Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Agriculture

Worsening Water Scarcity To Impact 2 Billion Globally

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