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A Grand Water Plan

ONE of the most ambitious proposals for solving north China's water crisis is a multi-billion dollar project to divert water north from the Yangzte River. Designed and promoted by the Ministry of Water Resources, the project would channel water 740 miles from the mouth of the Yangtze, near Shanghai, up the ancient Grand Canal and into the northern cities of Tianjin and Beijing.

The project, which would take five to 10 years to complete, would divert 9 billion cubic meters (11.7 billion cubic yards) of water from the Yangtze annually, says Chen Chunhuai, director of the Office of North-South Water Diversion at the Ministry of Water Resources.

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A major engineering feat, the project would first pump water uphill 43 yards over a distance of 400 miles to the Yellow River. Crossing under the river in a tunnel, it would then flow downhill to Tianjin and Beijing. Much of the water would be drained off and consumed en route northwards, with about 1 billion cubic meters, or one-ninth of the total, making the full journey to Beijing.

Mr. Chen says the project will be included in China's 1991-95 economic plan and possibly submitted to the National People's Congress, or parliament, for approval next year. But other experts say the project's expense (more than $1 billion for the first stage alone), its drain on east China's scarce electricity, and its environmental intrusiveness make it unrealistic.

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