Global freshwaters are severely depleted. Provision of improved water infrastructure technologies and innovation can address challenges posed by water shortages to environmental sustainability. China’s South-to-North Water Diversion Project has generated extensive debates over sustainability of water resources system in the northern drier region, which faces severe water scarcity hindering ecosystems, agriculture, industries and livelihoods. Some arguments extend the views that large infrastructure projects can have negative implications for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem goods and services. However, this study strengthens the opposite view, as such projects would resolve increasing environmental challenges northern China has been facing over many decades due to severe water shortages. The project empowers connectivity among individuals, community, and organizations that the sustainability of goods and services such as energy, irrigation and water supply are perceived, and livelihoods and the standard of peoples’ living is improved. A resilient, robust and adaptive water infrastructure framework can overcome the challenges of water shortages by meeting a long term social, economic and environmental goals for water resources systems in northern China. Such framework can also identify the thresholds of change and the threats associated with environmental sustainability.
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