The projected global spending on water and waste-water services is steadily increasing: from US$ 576 billion in 2006, to US$ 772 billion in 2015, to over US$1 trillion in 2025. The projected expenditure on water infrastructure as percentage of GDP will increase too, from 0.75 % in 2015 to more than 1 % in 2025.
These values do not include the major water engineering projects that are either planned or under construction. The construction of 3,700 future hydropower dams may require an investment of about USD 2 trillion, excluding operation costs as well as the costs caused by social and environmental damages.
Water is critical to life and civilization and large national projects are being used to radically change rivers. This is the risk of water wars and conflicts. China and India have huge water projects. China has projects which will impact the fishing and farming of India, Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia. China is upriver from Vietnam and India. This will be discussed in more detail in two follow up articles.
In 2018, irrigation accounted for 70% (or 2.7 trillion tons ) of the water resources withdrawn by humans globally from rivers and aquifers. Humans globally withdraw 3.9 trillion tons of water each year.
World Bank statistics for the top country water withdrawals in billions of tons per year.
Diverting Mighty Rivers
Interbasin transfer projects (IBTs) are considered as an approved engineering solution meeting the accelerating demands for water to secure food production, support economic development and reduce poverty. They divert water from a river somewhere else.
The South-North Project in China, the Indian Rivers Linking Project, the Transaqua Project in Africa, the Sibaral Project in Central Asia and many more projects are at various stages of development and implementation. Projects and plans may rapidly gain wide support when political and social circumstances change or when major disasters occur.
With the objective to provide water for more than 500 million people, the South-North IBT in China is one of the largest water engineering projects already under construction. By 2050, about 45 billion tons water per year will be diverted through three branches from the Yangtze basin to northern and western China. The estimated costs are about USD 60 billion. The 1,264 km long Central Route was opened in 2014. 330,000 people were resettled. There are larger plans to divert up to 200 billion water from the major rivers in SW China, including the upper sections of the Mekong, Brahmaputra and Salween Rivers, to the water-thirsty regions in northern and eastern China.
The Indian Rivers Linking Project (ILR) might become the largest water infrastructure project ever undertaken globally. It is planned to build 30 links and about 300 reservoirs and to connect 37 Himalayan and Peninsular rivers to form a gigantic water grid system on the Indian subcontinent. The canals are 50–100 m wide and 6 m deep to allow navigation. 178 billion water per year will be redistributed. For comparison, the annual discharge of the Rhine River at its mouth is 75 billion tons. The total length of the planned canal network is 15,000 km, 30 million hectares of newly irrigated area are expected to be created, and 35 GW hydropower should be produced (but power will be taken for the diversions). The ballpark is this will cost about $180 billion.
The global navigable waterways encompass a network of 700,000 km that connects river basins across geographic regions. In the European Union, more than 50,000 km navigable rivers and canals create a dense web of waterways. Today, you may travel from southern France to western Siberia without entering the sea