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Beijing 2022: How real are your snows?

Beijing 2022: How real are your snows?

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 committed to delivering sustainable and eco-friendly GamesHowever, there are serious environmental concerns regarding Beijing 2022, particularly its snowmaking.

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

Carmen de Jong is Professor of Hydrology at University of Strasbourg. However, she believes that figure to have been wrong.

“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 this in perspective: To cover one hectare ski run by artificial snow in the Alps, it takes between 3,000 – 6,000 cubic metres,” de Jong wrote. The water requirement for Beijing venues is two to three times greater, i.e. More than 10,000 cubic meters water per hectare. This is because the climate does not allow for snowmaking.

The BOC assured DW that its venues had passed industry inspections and been highly praised by industry experts. It also said that snowmaking is required for all Games’ snowsport venues in order to shape the competition course and ensure that all athletes are competing under the same conditions.

They state that snowmaking “will not impact local waters security and environment”, citing specific figures from Yanqing, Zhangjiakou, where the majority of the snow sports events will occur.

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. In a 2019 reportThe whole of Beijing is “extremely water stressed”, and Zhangjiakou’s local water resource per capita is less than one-fifth China’s national average.

Let it snow

According to the BOC, snowfall will occur in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou in late November 2021. This snowfall will be at “blizzard level”, which means that snowmaking can be done in less water. De Jong believes that this is not true.

De Jong stated that there is only 2 to 3 cm of natural snow in the mountain venues, so the entire Games will be made up of 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 it is snow, we can compete. It’ll be fine. But it’s not the spirit and spirit of the Winter Olympics. There is still plenty of snow out and I believe if we conserve it it will be there in the future.”

A graphic comparing snowfall in Yanqing and three other Olympic cities

Comparison of snowfall/snowdays in Yanqing District and three previous Olympic cities

High winds and dry soil make it difficult to get snow at Yanqing. 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 Publishing Nature  Groundwater depletion in northern China is a “critical problem” and one of the most serious worldwide. This is due to intensive agricultural irrigation, rapid urbanization and a dry climate.

These Games have environmental implications beyond snowmaking. There is also the concern of the destruction and devastation of the natural world.

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 night-time construction restrictions, the establishment wildlife corridors, and the protection or transplantation 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 started to compare maps and Google images, and discovered that what had been changed was the nature reserve’s boundaries, not the locations.

“So the venues were preserved and 1,100 hectares have been removed from nature reserve, i.e. 25% of the total nature reserve area was 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 the BOC’s promises about Beijing 2022 being green, there are still doubts about how sustainable these Olympics can and will be. This is due in large part to the issue of snow.

“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 are expected to have a significant impact on the areas where they are held, even after the snow has melted.

Edited By: Rob Mudge

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