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2022 Beijing Games: How real are your snowflakes?

2022 Beijing Games: How real are your snowflakes?

A graphic comparing snowfall in Yanqing and three other Olympic cities

It wouldn’t be possible to have the Winter Olympics without snow, would it?

The Beijing Organizing Committee, (BOC). has pledged to provide sustainable and environmentally-friendly GamesHowever, there are serious environmental concerns regarding the 2022 Games, particularly its snowmaking.

Multiple reports have suggested that it will take 49 million gallons to make enough snow for alpine runs.

Carmen de Jong, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Strasbourg, believes this figure to be incorrect.

“Forty-nine million gallons would only be 186,000 cubic meters of water, that is more or less the amount used for making snow for one single ski run but it’s way off the real figure  nearly 2 million cubic meters (around 500 million gallons),” de Jong told DW via email.

De Jong wrote that “To put this in perspective: To cover one hectare ski run by artificial snow in the Alps, it takes between 3,000 – 6,000 cubic metres.” The Beijing venues have a water requirement that is 2-3 times greater. More than 10,000 cubic metres of water per hectare. This is because the climate does not allow for snowmaking.

The BOC informed DW that its venues had passed inspections and received “high praise” from industry experts. They also stated that snowmaking was required for all Games’ snow sports venues to shape the competition courses and ensure all athletes compete in the same conditions.

They claim that snowmaking will not affect local water security or environment, citing specific figures for Yanqing (the two areas where most of these snow sports events will take place)

The BOC says the Games-time water demand for the Yanqing area will account for 4% of local water resources, having no impact on water resources security, and just 2.8% of the total water resources in the Chongli District in Zhangjiakou.

It claims that the Yunzhou Reservoir, Zhangjiakou, has diverted over 5 000 cubic meters of water into the Chongli District. This will reduce groundwater extraction.

China Water Risk, a Hong Kong-based environmental organization, believes otherwise. A 2019 reportThe entire city of Beijing is “extremely water-stressed”, and the local water resource per person in Zhangjiakou is below the national average.

Let it snow

The BOC predicts snowfall in Yanqing in November 2021. In Zhangjiakou, it will reach “blizzard level”, which means that snowmaking can be done in less water. De Jong disagrees.

De Jong said that “nearly no natural snow is found in mountain venues (just 2 to 3 cm per month), so the entire Games are based on artificial snow.” “All roads leading to the ski runs must be covered with artificial snow to allow the snow grooms and ski-doos to move.

River Radamus, a US skier believes that skiing on fake snow is acceptable for competition. However, it is a stark reminder about the reality of the world and is not ideal for the sport.

Radamus shared his thoughts with DW’s Living Planet podcast, “I think that the fact we are racing on artificial skis, you know at the Winter Olympics, it is another warning sign about what’s going global and what our future looks like.”

“You know that it’s snow. We can compete, it will be fine. However, it doesn’t reflect the spirit of the Winter Olympics. I don’t think there will ever be another Winter Olympics.

A graphic comparing snowfall in Yanqing and three other Olympic cities

Comparison of snowfall/snow day in Yanqing District with three other Olympic cities

High wind speeds and dry air and soil make Yanqing difficult for snow. The Haihe basin is one of the driest river valleys in China. Both venues are within reach of disaster. Water scarcity are not new.

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Indeed, 2020 study in science publication Nature  Groundwater depletion in north China was a “critical concern” due to intensive agriculture irrigation, rapid urbanization, and dry climate.

These Games pose environmental problems beyond snowmaking. Its contribution to the destruction and degrading of the natural environment is also a concern.

According to the BOC, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), have been done for the Songhan Nature Reserve’s competition zones of Yanqing & Zhangjiakou. They claim wildlife has been protected through restrictions to night-time construction, the establishment wildlife corridors, as well as the transplanting and protection of plants where necessary.

“In 2015 Chinese biologists pointed out this problem and suggested the venues would be shifted,” de Jong said. Last year, de Jong began to compare maps and Google images, and discovered that the boundaries of nature reserve had been changed, not the locations.

“So the venues were preserved and 1,100 hectares have been removed from nature reserve, i.e. 25% of the total area in the nature reserve has been lost. De Jong said that the core area has been completely destroyed by ski runs and access roads, helicopter landing areas, car parks, and roads.”

There are still concerns

Despite the assurances made by the BOC about the green nature 2022 Games, there are still questions about how sustainable these Olympics will be. The issue of snow is a major factor in this.

“Many ski runs are perpendicular with the slopes, which makes it difficult to control erosion. De Jong stated that major erosion and flooding are likely to occur in Yanqing.

“Erosion will have an impact on the ecosystem, clogging rivers courses and choking salmon. It can also affect water infrastructures, such as filling up reservoirs and canals. The quality of drinking water can also be affected by high suspended sediment rates.

The 2022 Games will have an impact on the regions where they are held long before the snow melts.

Edited By: Rob Mudge

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