I've just come back from a motorcycle trip across northern mainland, from Beijing to Kashgar, in the Xinjiang autonomous region . One word can sum up what I saw: "dry."
But even in a desert there is some water. Modern engineering techniques can now often pump enough water from deep underground for large-scale farming.
Almost half of the mainland's population lives in the relatively dry north. The World Bank warns that urban dwellers and poor farmers might end up fighting over its dwindling water.
All farming in this dry region must be done with irrigation. As we drove across the desert on our motorbikes, we could see from miles away the towns and farms. In the open, windswept land clusters of trees and crops sprouted everywhere water had been found.
Xinjiang is one of the mainland's big investment projects. Beijing pours vast sums of money into the region to build roads, towns and factories. All of this requires water and the increased activity is putting a strain on Xinjiang's limited supplies. Some 4.63 million farmers and herdsmen are struggling to find enough drinking water.
With a US$100 million loan from the World Bank Development Fund, Beijing will help Xinjiang build four new water systems to solve drinking water shortages in rural areas.
Other parts of the mainland are also drying up. Farming communities and growing cities are struggling to ensure a steady supply of water.
In Beijing, water supplies have been tapped extensively for the growing city's needs. The level of available water has fallen drastically in the past decade. In places where people once took water for granted, they now realise it is a resource that must be used with care.
China has been growing by leaps and bounds, but faces a problem common worldwide. It will require not only engineering but conservation to tackle water shortages.
Cameron is available to speak to students about environmental and climate change issues as well as his Arctic sailing expedition. Contact info@openpassage expedition.com