June 27, 2001
With only two years left before the water level is scheduled to rise behind the massive Three Gorges dam, Chongqing municipality has pledged to spend more than one billion dollars cleaning up the heavily polluted Yangtze River to prevent the dam’s 600-kilometre reservoir from becoming a cesspool.
In May, Chongqing Municipality — the super-municipality which is responsible for 75 percent of the Three Gorges reservoir area and 30 million of its residents — announced a special budget of US$500 million to treat and remove the hundreds of open garbage dumps piled along the Yangtze’s riverbanks.
For thousands of years Chongqing residents have been dumping their garbage along the Yangtze’s riverbanks, which the Yangtze would wash downstream during flood season.
But now that the Three Gorges reservoir is about to back up and permanently slow down the Yangtze’s flow, concentrating pollutants and garbage in the new reservoir, Chongqing has finally been forced to confront its waste.
The People’s Daily reported in June that officials at Chongqing’s Environmental Protection Bureau consider building new drainage works and treatment plants a “pressing matter” since most of the city’s wastewater and sewage discharges directly into the Yangtze and Jialin rivers untreated, contributing to 60 percent of pollution in the Three Gorges area.
Citing a survey by the bureau, Chongqing’s leading newspaper, Chongqing Chengbao, revealed in May that eight of the city’s main sewer pipes are discharging untreated sewage and industrial wastewater directly into the Yangtze and Jialin rivers, the city’s main source of drinking water.
The paper also reported that city officials expect water quality to improve by 2004 when three new treatment plants, partly financed by the World Bank, are to be completed. An additional three treatment plants are expected to be completed by 2010 for a total cost of US$700 million, with financing from domestic banks, national bonds, and user fees collected from local industries.
Chongqing’s widely-publicized efforts to clean up the Yangtze River follow reports that many local residents fear the Three Gorges reservoir will make pollution worse. Residents of Fengjie County — 400 kilometres downstream of urban Chongqing — already refuse to drink water from the Yangtze for fear of upstream contamination. Instead, local residents have pooled funds to build their own reservoir, Chongqing Chengbao reports.
Meanwhile, Chinese environmental experts insist that pollution belts visible near every city along the Three Gorges reservoir will worsen and spread into stagnant bays off the main reservoir because the Yangtze will no longer be able to dilute and flush pollutants downstream, and because garbage will continue to accumulate along the riverbanks after 2003.
“Everybody knows the Yangtze will become undrinkable on completion of the big dam,” writes Professor Lei, an environmental protection expert and retired Chongqing university professor who has recently visited the Three Gorges area. According to Professor Lei, every single county along the reservoir has plans to build their own reservoirs for drinking water because they don’t expect the Yangtze will be fit for consumption after 2003.
Professor Lei believes the scale of the environmental clean-up needed along the Yangtze is far greater than Chongqing has bargained for and that clean-up, once the reservoir is completed, will be virtually impossible “even if a mountain of gold is spent on it.”
Professor Lei argues that the government could have taken steps to avoid a pollution crisis much earlier but instead officials at all levels — including the State Council’s Three Gorges Project Construction Committee — were too busy trying to cover up the truth about Three Gorges’ growing environmental threat, fearing that exposing the problem would strengthen opposition to the dam.
Last year, Qinghua University professor Zhang Guangduo, another prominent environmental expert, advised Three Gorges officials that US$37 billion should have been set aside for cleaning up the Yangtze while the project is under construction.
An estimated 40 million people depend on the Yangtze for their drinking water.
China’s limited experience with wastewater treatment does not bode well for the Yangtze, Professor Lei argues.
The state’s three-year campaign to clean up central China’s Huai River — the source of drinking water for 150 million — has failed to produce results even though local authorities forced some polluting enterprises to shut down.
In Yunnan province, the government has already spent US$500 million trying to improve water quality in polluted Lake Dian and it may take at least another billion dollars before the lake is clean, Professor Lei reports.
– END –
All Chinese stories that are translated and published by Three Gorges Probe are as true to the original Chinese text as possible. Editing for English grammar and style is kept to a minimum in instances where misinterpretation may occur.
Three Gorges Probe is dedicated to covering the scientific, technical, economic, social, and environmental ramifications of completing the Three Gorges Project, as well as the alternatives to the dam. Three Gorges Probe welcomes submissions. As part of our service, we also reprint articles about the Three Gorges Project we feel will be of interest to our readers.
Publisher: Patricia Adams
Executive Editor: Mu Lan
Assistant Editor: Lisa Peryman
Categories: Three Gorges Probe
Leave a Reply