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Pollution Control of the Dongting Lake Area, Conserving the 'Kidney of the Yangtze River'

Writer: Time:2010-03-04
From: http://www.enghunan.gov.cn/

Originating from the Three Gorge across the Jianghan Plain, the Yangtze River makes lots of twists and turns and reach its most important lake - the Dongting Lake in the south. Four streams including the Xiangjiang River, the Zishui River, the Yuanjiang River, and the Lishui River, all flow into Dongting Lake, and the lake is sometimes known as 'the holder of the four streams'. Because Dongting Lake acts as a tremendous natural reservoir or flood-basin, it plays an important role in regulating the flow of the Yangtze River. The lake is often referred as 'the kidney of the Yangtze River'. The lake has rich biodiversity due to its unique hydrological characteristics. Serving as a species gene pool in the Yangtze River valley, it is home to over 400 types of tall trees, 114 fish species, and 255 bird species. In 1992, it was added to the list of Wetlands of International Importance.

The Dongting Lake has abundant and continuous water flow into it as it connects the Yangtze River's tributaries. However, due to the rapid development of industries in the lake area, 100 million tons of wastewater from over 200 paper manufacturers is being dumped into the lake each year. This has resulted in toxic lake water and it's not feasible to treat the water. In the end of 2006, Zhou was appointed as Governor of Hunan. He was the youngest governor in China at that time. He immediately fulfilled his promise of protecting the mother river which he made at the awards ceremony the year before, and unveiled a master plan to control the water pollution generated by paper manufacturers in the vicinity of Dongting Lake. Except two manufacturers who had water treatment facilities and met the pollution discharge standards, 234 enterprises were forced to stop production. It included 33 pulp and paper-making manufacturers with an annual output under 50,000 tons and 201 waste paper pulping manufacturers with an annual output under 10,000 tons. Paper industries was an important economic pillar in the Dongting Lake surrounding areas, employing over 18,000 people in Changde, Yiyang and Yueyang cities. Although the water pollution problem was left unsolved for a long period of time, controlling and finding an acceptable solution for all the stakeholders posed numerous challenges. It was a tough and tricky task for Zhou soon after taking office as Governor of Hunan province.

Just two months after the launch of the pollution control in the Dongting Lake area, the first test emerged. On Feb. 6, 2007, Yueyang (XiangYin) FengLong Paper Industry Co., Ltd. illegally resumed production which resulted in highly toxic pollutants being drained into the Xiangjiang River. This posed a serious threat to the government's determination on pollution control. Zhou immediately visited the area to analyze the situation and take appropriate measures. He investigated various government officers and asked them to expedite the implementation of the measures taken for pollution control in the Dongting Lake area. The Hunan Provincial Supervision Department was asked to collaborate with the Hunan Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau and the Yueyang City Government to promptly investigate and impose punishments. Immediately, the environmental protection departments penalized the Fenglong Paper Industry Co., Ltd. for its illegal production. The Yueyang City Government also found the Xiangyin county and few other departments guilty.

The director and deputy director of the Xiangyin County Environmental Protection Bureau were demoted, and the officer in charge of the Xiangyin County Power Supply Bureau was given a disciplinary warning. These measures played an effective role in controlling further recurrences and were highly appraised as 'an environmental protection storm in the Dongting Lake' by the media.

However, large-scale pollution control is difficult to implement. There was another such incidence in May of 2008 in which 8 pulp and paper manufacturers with massive emissions and highly polluted drain water were the culprits. Secret inquiries by the Hunan Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau revealed that 2 manufactures resuming production did not get authorization from environmental protection department. They also failed in having adequate pollution treatment facilities, and directly discharged wastewater without any necessary treatment. Also, 4 more manufactures pollution treatment facilities were not functional, and the wastewater was being discharged without the treatment by the middle-stage wastewater treatment facilities and 2 manufactures discharged wastewater which did not conforms to the standards. All the above problems were reported to Zhou and got immediate instructions that no hesitation or compromise shall be accepted in controlling the pollution in the Dongting Lake area. He ordered that all the manufacturers producing illegal emission and the related persons in charge who did not exercise effective supervision shall be penalized.

Currently, the Hunan Provincial People's Government has authorized measures to impose restrictions based on regions. An offending region will not be entitled to start new projects until the environmental protection department ensures that the region conforms to the accepted standards of pollution. All new construction projects in Yiyang city with potential environmental hazards are not permitted provisionally. Also, Changde city was given a disciplinary warning and asked to make rectifications within a definite time. Director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Yiyang city and Vice Mayor of Yuanjaing city in charge for environmental protection have been suspended and are being investigated by the CPC Yiyang City Committee and the Yiyang City Government. Also, 6 manufactures shall be suspended and asked to improve the facilities to ensure that they conform to the environmental protection guidelines and laws.

After two years of cleaning up the operations of paper plants and degummed ramie manufactures around the Dongting Lake, many small enterprises with serious pollution problems have been thoroughly shut down, reducing the number of paper manufacturers in the lake region to 9 from 33. The currently pulp and paper plants conform to the new national discharge standards through advanced wastewater treatment.

While intensifying the industrial waste treatment in the Dongting Lake area, Hunan province has vigorously advanced the housing project and difficulty resolution programs for the fishermen. Due to historical reasons, tens of thousands of fishermen have been living in their fishing boats in the Dongting Lake for years. Because of their poor financial conditions, not only do they live by fishing, but also have to stay on their boats all the time since they have no houses. Consequently, litter and wastewater scattered and discharged by them pose a grave threat to both the Dongting Lake and local residents. In order to handle this problem, in 2009, the CPC Hunan Provincial Committee and Hunan Provincial People's Government launched the projects with the aim of helping fishermen settle down on land and live a better life. Governments at various levels have spent a total of 77.60 million yuan (11.5 million USD) in helping the fishermen to settle on land and renovating houses in poor condition, thus putting an end to their former life simply with fishing boats serving as the houses. About 32.79 million yuan (4.9 million USD) have been raised to provide basic living allowances, assistance and vocational training to those fishermen. Through these effective measures, more than 4,000 fishermen have been helped to find alternate professions or work in other places. Meanwhile, the environmental protection of the Dongting Lake has been strengthened in an all-round way through the following measures.

The authorities have enforced restrictions on fishing and wastewater discharge, which are detrimental to the ecologic environment of the water. A total of 10 million yuan has been sanctioned as a special fund for artificial breeding of fish in the Dongting Lake and about 100 million fish fry have been released into the lake. Ban on fishing in the spring fish spawning season has been introduced and strictly imposed, a provisional subsidy has been offered to the fishermen in the off-season; fishery administration in the Dongting Lake has enhanced law enforcement.

Through a series of comprehensive and effective measures such as industrial wastewater and urban sewage treatment, prevention and control of the pollution resulting from fishermen's life on boat, the Dongting Lake has witnessed an increasingly sound ecologic environment. It can be said that the Dongting Lake has resumed its function as the 'kidney of the Yangtze River', acting as a flood basin for the river, presenting us with a perfect harmony between humanity and water. In the ten key water monitoring sections in the Dongting Lake, the water quality has been maintained as Grade I - III. The water quality of Chenglingji Port, a national controlling section located in the Dongting Lake near the entrance of the Yangtze River has also met the standard level. Thanks to the favorable environment after treatment, finless porpoises, a rare aquatic animal which has disappeared for many years, reappeared in the Dongting Lake. Hunan province, under the provincial administration headed by Zhou, has achieved satisfactory results in cleaning up the Dongting Lake, a body of green rippling water flowing into the Yangtze River, China's Mother River.