So the government in Yunnan moved in to help. Through 2015, multibillion-dollar investment will be poured into constructing new water reserves of 3 billion cubic meters -- a nearly 30 percent increase in Yunnan's 2009 capacity. But experts say this may still not be enough.
"Yunnan is facing a structural challenge," said Gemmer, the Meteorological Administration senior adviser. "The current development and economic structure cannot be maintained because it will be impossible to protect all 45 million citizens of Yunnan from droughts."
The region's population already increased by 12 percent and economic output per capita quadrupled since 2000, but the available water resources per capita have dropped by half, Gemmer added.
Adaptation gets harder
Yunnan has been trying hard in recent years to overhaul its resource-intensive economy and turn to industries that use less water, but now that plan is at risk.
Lijiang, for one, has bet its economy restructure on tourism. In 2010, millions of travelers came to experience its beautiful lakes, gorges and snow-capped mountains, bringing revenue of more than $1.8 billion. But with a changing climate and persistent drought, that's gone, too.
"I wouldn't have had time to talk with you at this time in previous years, but now I waited here for hours and saw only a few visitors," said He, the photographer who makes a living by taking pictures for tourists near Black Dragon Lake.
Lijiang is now building a channel to bring in water from a nearby water reserve, but this can only refill part of the lake. Worst of all, global warming is causing glaciers, which supply most of Lijiang's water, to melt faster.
According to a recent study by the Meteorological Administration, glaciers in Mount Jade Dragon began retreating in the 1980s, and more than 70 percent of glaciers there are expected to disappear if the average temperature rises more than 1.6 degrees Celsius from now to 2050.
"Glaciers in Mount Jade Dragon are a lifeline for Lijiang," He said. "If they disappear, so will this city."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500