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2022 Beijing Games – How real is your snow?

2022 Beijing Games – How real is your snow?

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?

Beijing Organizing Committee Has vowed to deliver a sustainable, eco-friendly OlympicsHowever, there are serious concerns about the 2022 Games, and in particular its snowmaking,

Multiple reports over the past few months suggest that 49 million gallons will be required to create enough snow to support alpine runs.

Carmen de Jong, professor of hydrology at the University of Strasbourg believes that this figure is too low.

“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.

“To put it in perspective: One hectare of ski runs by artificial snow in the Alps takes between 3,000 to 6,000 cubic metres,” de Jong wrote. The water requirement for Beijing venues is between 3,000 and 6,000 cubic meters. More than 10,000 cubic metres of water per hectare. This is because the climate isn’t suitable for snowmaking.

The Beijing Organizing Committee (BOC), which told DW that the venues had passed industry inspections, said that snowmaking was required for all Games’ snowsport venues. This is to ensure that all athletes compete under the exact same conditions.

The BOC has said the snowmaking “will not impact local water security and environment,” citing specific figures for Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, the two areas where most of the snow sports events will be held.

The BOC has said the demand for water in the Yanqing area during the Games will account for 4% of local water resources and just 2.8% of the total water resources in Zhangjiakou’s Chongli District, with no impact on water resources security.

And it has claimed that the creation of the Yunzhou Reservoir in Zhangjiakou has diverted over 5,000 cubic meters of water to the Chongli District, reducing groundwater extraction.

China Water Risk, an environmental group based in Hong Kong, believes otherwise.A 2019 report, it stated that Beijing is an “extremely highly water-stressed” city, and that the local water resource per capita in Zhangjiakou is less than one-fifth of China’s national average.

Let it snow

The BOC has backed up its position by pointing to the snowfall in late November 2021, in both Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, which reached “blizzard level” conditions and created favorable conditions for reducing water consumption for snowmaking a claim disputed by de Jong.

“There is nearly no natural snow in the mountain venues (just 2 or 3 cm per month), so the entire Games will be based on 100% artificial snow,” said de Jong. “All roads to the ski runs have to be covered in artificial snow to allow the Ski Doos and snow grooms movement.

US skier River Radamus believes that while skiing on fake snow is fine for competition, it’s a stark reminder of the reality the world finds itself in and ultimately is not ideal for the sport, either.

Radamus said that the fact that we are racing on artificially snow at the Winter Olympics is another warning sign about what’s going globally and what our future looks, as he told DW’s Living Planet podcast.

“It’s snow, it’s possible to compete, it will be fine, but it’s certainly not the spirit of Winter Olympics and it’s something I don’t want to see in the future. There is still plenty of snow out and I believe if we conserve it, there will be in future.”

A graphic comparing snowfall/snow days in Yanqing District and three other previous Olympic cities

The Yanqing site struggles with snow conditions due to high wind speeds, as well as dry air and soil. With both venues located in one of China’s driest river basins, the Haihe basin, concerns around Water scarcity are not new.

Indeed, 2020 study in science publishing Nature warned that groundwater depletion in northern China was a “critical issue” and among the highest globally, due to intensive agricultural irrigation, rapid urbanization and the dry climate.

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These Games pose environmental problems beyond snowmaking. Contribution to the destruction and degradation of the natural environment is also a concern.

The BOC has claimed that environmental impact assessments have been conducted for the competition zones of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, both located in the Songshan Nature Reserve. According to the committee, wildlife has been protected through restrictions on nighttime construction, the establishment of wildlife corridors and the transplantation or protection of plants, where necessary.

“In 2015 Chinese biologists pointed out this problem and suggested the venues would be shifted,” said de Jong. De Jong discovered that the only thing that had been changed was the boundaries of a nature reserve and not the venues.

“So venues were maintained and 1,100 ha of nature reserve were deleted. 25% of the total nature reserve’s area has been destroyed. De Jong said that the core area has been completely destroyed with access roads, ski runs and landing areas for helicopters, car parks, and roads.”

There are still concerns

Despite all the assurances by the BOC regarding the green nature of 2022 Games, there is still doubt about how sustainable these Olympics can and 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 he expects major erosion and flooding at Yanqing sites in the future.

“Erosion will have an impact on the ecosystem, clogging rivers courses and choking salmon. It can also cause damage to water infrastructures by clogging rivers and clogging reservoirs. The quality of drinking water can also be affected by high suspended sediment rates.

The 2022 Games look set to have a significant impact on the areas in which they will be held, long after the snow settles.

Edited By: Rob Mudge

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