[5] Reason for the Water Diversion Project

The start of the Luanhe River Water Diversion Project might not be as an easy, simple, single solution to the decades-long water crisis in Tianjin. Multiple solutions have been devised but yet the final solution to the problem. Along with the growing numbers in density, population, demand from industries in Tianjin and its neighbouring cities, water source became more and more valuable. Following is the reasons for the construction of the 234-km 1.13 billion yuan project.

(Tianjin) City-Level:

Social Aspect: Water Shortage
At the end of 1970s, Tianjin suffered the most serious water shortage since half a century. Due to the rapid economic development, population growth, water consumption increased sharply, while the main source of the Haihe River upstream of the reservoir, due to irrigation and other reasons, the water flowing to Tianjin greatly reduced, resulting in a serious shortage of water supply in Tianjin.

The Luanhe River Diversion Project deputy commander Jing Chunyang, 71 years old this year, recalled that when facing Tianjin city water cut off water, the volume of city water usage dropped from originally 1.8 million m3 to 1 million m3 every day, and then was compressed to 700 thousand m3. The water for people’s living was reduced from 70 litres per person to 65 litres per person per day, and it is also a bitter salt water containing more than 1000 mg of chloride per litre.

Hindrance on Industrial Development
For industrial production, water has been reduced from the original 770 thousand m3 to the 450 thousand m3. The power plant in Tianjin was first forced to stop generating electricity, and the major water users such as textile, printing and dyeing and papermaking were at risk of production halt at any time.

“Before the Diversion project, Tianjin tap water can be used to pickle vegetables, and it could be stinky after making tea.” Former deputy director of the Tianjin Municipal Water Conservancy Bureau Luanhe River Project preparatory group deputy leader Zhang Yongping said, “some units dug a well underground in the suburbs of Tianjin City, where the staff collected water with a small plastic bucket every day, going home with a plastic bucket of water for cooking and tea.”

Water Diversion Project: A Solution to Flooding
Tianjin is the entering place for nine rivers to the sea. The low-lying geographical condition makes Tianjin volunerable of flooding. In case of heavy rains, water level rises severely, endangering the city constructions. According to records, from 1644 to 1900, Tianjin was submit to flooding up to 39 times, and from 1900 to 1948, Tianjin had suffered 6 times of flooding (1912, 1917, 1924, 1929, 1937, 1939) , which in 1917 and 1939 floods were causing huge losses to Tianjin people, leaving many people with a painful memory.

Social Safety
Fire Alarm ringing: Folk Fire Service could not help much
The people of Tianjin not only suffered from flood and water crisis, but also in comprehensive planning of the old city construction. Buildings and architectures were in congestion and threat to fire, due to lack of fire equipment. In modern Tianjin, there were several fires, not only the heavy loss of the people’s property, but also the engulfing many innocent lives in the fire.

According to records, in 1877 the southeast corner, a porridge factory caused fire which claimed more than two thousand people death and in 1903 huge fire in Gongbei left more than a hundred shops into ashes. Even when there were the folk organisations of fire-service, it only had an utterly inadequate measure of towards the fire. Life of Tianjin people was miserable.

Provincial/ Regional Level:

Taming the Haihe River
In the early 1950s, Mao Zedong put forward the call for “a radical cure of the Haihe River”. The main way to cure the Haihe River is to “forever-cure the flood disaster of the Haihe River”. As the late professor Huang Wanli pointed out, since the founding of People’s Republic of China, a major mistake in water policy is to treat and control rivers as class enemies.

Two main measures for the administration of the Haihe River: first is the construction of a large number of reservoirs in the upstream, to control flood, such as Huangbizhuang reservoir, Yuecheng Reservoir, Gangnan Reservoir and so on; the second is the artificial river directly into the sea in the downstream of the excavation, such as factory of New River, Duliujian River etc..

The upper reaches of the reservoir halts water at the top of the natural river, while the water pumping station is draining out the storage from the reservoir. Downstream artificial river will flow directly into the sea. Less and less water from Haihe River flows into the sea, causing indwelling of seawater into the river. Thus, the salt component in river is high and keeps rising. Therefore Tianjin has lost the Haihe River as a direct water source. This is the root cause of the water supply crisis in Tianjin.

Mao Zedong’s radical cure of Haihe River did not get the expected results. In 1963, more than 200 reservoirs in the Haihe River Basin broke up in the flood, and the flood of the dam nearly flooded all over Tianjin at one point.

Pollution of Water Source
Secondly, the pollution of the water source has led to great reduction in the amount of fresh drinkable water. The water pollution of the southern canal river in Tianjin was very serious, which is regarded as V water quality. China issued “environmental quality standard for surface water, underground water will be divided into five classes (class I-V), the larger the number, the poorer quality. V water cannot be used as a water source for living, for industrial production, nor for irrigating farmland. It is very accurate to classify the water crisis in this area as polluting water shortage. Now the local people describe the river in this area: the river is not dry, that is, the river is dirty.

Fallen Victim of Beijing’s Water Supply
Finally, the water supply crisis in Tianjin is still in place, and Tianjin has been a victim of Beijing’s water supply.
In 1951, Beijing began to build the Guanting Reservoir as the main source of water and completed in 1954. The total reservoir capacity of Guanting reservoir was 2.27 billion cubic meters, and then increased to 4.16 billion cubic meters. The quality of Guanting reservoir project was problematic. Because of the leakage, and huge amount of reservoir sedimentation, the ecology of upstream of the reservoir was seriously damaged. Less and less clean water was diverted to the city. 30% of water was lost in pipes.

Reflection on Existing Water Crises
Since the Guanting reservoir was unable to meet the needs of water supply in Beijing, Miyun reservoir was built in 1958 and completed in 1960. Miyun reservoir is located in the intersection of Miyun County and Bailiang River in northeastern Beijing. The river does not pass through the urban area of Beijing, but enters the sea through Tianjin. In order to lead the river to the city of Beijing, a 110-km water diversion channel was built. In 1960s, Miyun reservoir was shared by Tianjin and Beijing as a source of water.

Beginning of the Luanhe River Diversion Project
By 70s, the water demand in Beijing increased, and the water coming from Guanting reservoir was less and less, and the water pollution became more and more serious. So the amount of water supplied to Miyun Reservoir in Tianjin was all given to Beijing. In order to make up for the loss of Tianjin, the central government decided to build the YinLuanRuJin project, solving the problem of water supply in Tianjin. During the Diversion project construction in 70s, Tianjin mainly depended on five provisional diversion from Yellow River water to solve the water problem.


万 里. “用 引滦入津精神抓重点建设.” 人民日报, May 13, 1983, 5. 

“引滦入津:改变一座特大型城市命运的水利工程.” 新华社, November 24, 2008. 

“引灤入津工程简介.” 土木工程学报 , August 1984, 8-11. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.