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Does South-to-North Water Transfer Reduce the Environmental Impact of Water Consumption in China?


  • Chen Lin,

  • Sangwon Suh,

  • Stephan Pfister

Chen Lin, Center for Economic Research, Shandong University, 27 Shanda Nanlu, Jinan, China.


The South-to-North Water Transfer Project (SNWTP) is planned in China to alleviate the problem of the heterogeneous distribution of water resources. The project is expected to reduce water stress and decrease associated environmental impacts in northern China. This article utilizes life cycle impact assessment modeling, including regionalized water consumption impact assessment and an interregional input-output model, to examine the potential of the SNWTP to reduce the impact of water consumption embodied in final demand. The environmental impacts of water consumption embodied in final demands within northern and southern China are calculated based on current conditions and on the scenario that the water transfer project is completed. The results show that the SNWTP increases the environmental impact of water consumption in southern China and reduces it in northern China. In total, the SNWTP will lead to a 5.74% net reduction in the environmental impact of water consumption embodied in the final demand from both southern and northern China. When monetized, the environmental benefit of the SNWTP could translate into 436 million euro (570 million U.S. dollars) per year, paying the total project cost back over 30 years without considering non-environmental benefits and costs.