The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region will speed up the construction of major water conservation projects in the vast area to increase and better allocate water resources and provide a boost to economic development, said local officials and experts.
"Xinjiang has been experiencing a serious shortage of water resources which have been overstretched and are in need of better management," said Li Gengsheng, head of the regional Water Resources Bureau.
The region plans to launch three major water conservation projects along seasonal rivers in southern Xinjiang this year to increase and better regulate water supply for industrial and agricultural use, and help reduce flood risks, Li said.
Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the region, said in January that Xinjiang will accelerate the construction of key water conservation projects this year as water is a critical natural and economic resource. The number of reservoirs in Xinjiang reached 543 last year, up from just 19 in 1978, according to the bureau.
Water conservation projects such as reservoirs are crucial for Xinjiang's development because climate change has made water supplies from the Tianshan and Kunlun mountains in the region more irregular and unpredictable, said Chen Xi, deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Xinjiang branch.
Many rivers in southern Xinjiang that originate in the mountains flood each year when snow in the highlands begins to melt in spring. But the waterways are left dry in other seasons due to low precipitation and high evaporation rates. That means people are unable to use the water when they need to, such as during irrigation seasons. Also, fighting the floods every year has become a burden for locals, Chen said.
Xinjiang, in northwestern China, is one of the driest parts of the country. The distribution of its water resources is also extremely unbalanced, with about 93 percent found in the northwest of the region, meaning that the sourcing of water for poverty-stricken southeastern Xinjiang has always been a challenge.
Having a stable and sufficient water supply is the foundation for boosting the local economy, Chen said, and it will also play an important role in helping farmers in southern Xinjiang's rural areas emerge from poverty as the efficiency of irrigation will be significantly improved.
There are still villagers in Xinjiang who do not have access of safe drinking water. The water conservation projects are expected to provide safe drinking water to 360,000 people living in poverty, Li said.