It would be impossible to hold a Winter Olympics without snow.
The Beijing Organizing Committee (BOC). has committed to delivering sustainable and eco-friendly GamesHowever, Beijing 2022 has serious environmental issues, especially its snowmaking.
Multiple reports have suggested that it will take 49 million gallons to make enough snow for alpine run.
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 metres of water per hectare. This is because the climate isn’t suitable 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 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 was built in Zhangjiakou and has diverted more than 5,000 cubic metres of water to Chongli District. This reduces groundwater extraction.
China Water Risk, a Hong Kong-based environmental organization, believes otherwise. In a 2019 reportBeijing’s entire population is water stressed and Zhangjiakou has a local water resource per person that is less than one fifth of 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. This is not the case for de Jong.
“There is very little natural snow in mountain venues (just 2 to 3 cm per month), so the whole Games will be based entirely on artificial snow,” stated de Jong. “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 stated that artificial snow racing at the Winter Olympics is a warning sign of what’s happening globally and what the future holds,” Radamus said to DW’s Living Planet podcast.
“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.
Comparison of snowfall/snow day in Yanqing District with three other Olympic cities
The Yanqing site has difficulty getting snow due to high winds speeds and dry air. The Haihe basin is one of the driest river valleys in China. Both venues are within reach of disaster. Water scarcity are not new.
Indeed, 2020 study in science publication 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 pose environmental problems beyond snowmaking. The destruction 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 night-time construction restrictions, establishment of wildlife corridors and the transplanting of or 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 started to compare maps and Google images, and discovered that what had been changed was the boundaries of a nature reserve and not the venues.
“So the venues were preserved and 1,100 hectares have been removed from nature reserve, i.e. 25% of the total nature reserve’s area has been destroyed. De Jong stated that the core area was completely destroyed by ski runs, access roads and helicopter landing spots, as well as car parks and roads.”
There are still concerns
Despite all the assurances made by the BOC about Beijing 2022’s green nature, there are still questions about whether these Olympics will be sustainable. 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 cause damage to water infrastructures by clogging rivers and clogging reservoirs. Drinking water quality can also be affected if there is a high concentration of suspended sediment.
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