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Premier presses water conservancy projects

Updated: Nov 19,2019 08:04 PM

Premier Li Keqiang called for timely and coordinated efforts by related authorities and local governments to push the South-to-North Water Diversion Project and other major projects of strategic significance.

The Premier made the remarks while chairing a work conference on follow-up work for the South-to-North Water Diversion Project on Nov 18. A report on the overall planning of follow-up efforts was heard at the meeting.

Premier Li noted the first phase of the project — east and middle routes — has passed its test in terms of construction and water quality, and played a major role securing water supply for production, living and ecological use in regions along the routes, directly benefiting over 100 million people.

"Advancing follow-up projects of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project and other major projects targeting weak links will help tackle downward pressure on the economy, drive effective investment, stabilize economic growth and boost employment," the Premier said.

Water resource planning an 'urgent issue'

Premier Li pointed out water shortages and uneven distribution of water resources across regions remain one of the major bottlenecks constraining the country's economic and social development, especially in northern and northwestern regions. The northern regions face severe shortages of underground water, the arduous task of water ecological restoration and an increasingly uneven water supply. Some provinces in South China also need to make urgent efforts to strengthen water conservation and address water shortages caused by continuous drought.

"Overall planning of water resource distribution is not only conducive to development, but also an urgent issue to be tackled," the Premier said. He also asked authorities to learn from famous water conservancy projects in China's history.

The Premier stressed authorities should promote the construction of these major projects with a historical and big-picture perspective.

He also noted the construction of follow-up projects will open up the channel for diverting water from the Yangtze River Basin to the northern regions. These projects will enhance the capacity of water resources in supporting economic and social development while optimizing China’s medium- and long-term development strategy.

He asked related departments to improve implementation plans in accordance with the overall planning of the project, speed up preparations and advance the follow-up construction of eastern and middle routes at an appropriate time.

Priority should be given to water conservancy, Premier Li said, and the accountability system should be strengthened to ensure project quality. Preliminary work, including selection and comparison of plans for the western route of the project, should be started.

Driving effective investment

Before the meeting, Premier Li went to Shantian Reservoir in Jingdezhen city of East China's Jiangxi province to inspect the drought, and required local authorities to construct water conservancy and water-saving irrigation projects.

"If water conservancy projects in Jiangxi had been laid out more reasonably, they would have played a supporting role in combating the drought," the Premier said.

There is huge demand for water conservancy projects, many of which have been evaluated for a long time, Premier Li pointed out, adding current effective investment needs to focus on the construction of water conservancy projects and support facilities, which will help enhance disaster prevention and reduction abilities, consolidate agricultural basis, drive the growth of related industries and equipment and create more job opportunities for migrant workers.

"Expanding effective investment is an important measure to keep the economy running within a reasonable range and withstand economic downward pressures," the Premier said. "The commonly recognized follow-up projects for the South-to-North Water Diversion Project have covered wide areas, attracted substantial sums of investment, formed a long industrial chain and created considerable job opportunities."

Premier Li said it is advantageous and necessary to build water conservancy projects now. Otherwise project costs will increase if prices of related elements keep climbing, and more importantly the shortage and uneven distribution of water resources will be aggravated.

He urged departments and regions involved to utilize currently relatively low material prices to speed up projects under construction, coordinate preliminary work on land use and environmental evaluation, start the construction of a batch of evaluated major water conservancy projects and support facilities as soon as possible.

Mechanisms need innovation

The work on follow-up projects for the South-to-North Water Diversion Project requires innovative fundraising, construction and management mechanisms, Premier Li said. A local official also suggested hammering out dedicated channels to tackle financial difficulties facing these projects.

More reformative measures were called for to obtain construction funds, with fiscal funds taking a lead and more local government bonds providing support, Premier Li noted.

Development and policy-oriented financial tools can also play a part, and financial institutions should be encouraged to increase medium and long-term loans, Premier Li said, highlighting the importance of adopting market-oriented principles to attract private funds from different sectors.

He stressed the need to reform the water price system and improve tiered water pricing. "Given its scarcity, water must be used under a 'who uses, who pays' concept. The key lies in reasonable prices for people," Premier Li said. "This will help save water and promote the establishment of a reasonable return mechanism, in an effort to attract more social capital into the construction and operation of water conservancy projects."