Three Gorges Probe

Water quality ‘worrisome’ in Three Gorges area

(April 1, 2004) Citing ‘worrisome’ levels of industrial pollution, China’s state environmental agency has acknowledged that pollution-control efforts in the Three Gorges reservoir area have not gone as well as planned, China Daily reports.

The State Environmental Protection Administration said in a report issued Thursday [April 1] that 93.8 per cent of polluters required to clean up their act had not done so, more than two-thirds of enterprises due to be shut down were still operating, and 35 per cent of major treatment programs have not been started.

“Progress of pollution treatment projects in the Three Gorges Project area is ‘not as smooth as planned,'” China Daily quoted the agency as saying.

“Hailed by most people for its potential capability to generate electricity, [the Three Gorges project] is questioned by some environmentalists about possible pollution to the reservoir and upstream areas,” the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, the Chongqing Morning Post (Chongqing chenbao) reports that water quality in the Chongqing section of the Yangtze River has deteriorated since the Three Gorges reservoir was filled last year.

Water tested at the Peishi monitoring station in Wushan county, Chongqing municipality, earned a respectable Grade 2 rating before the reservoir was filled to 135 metres above sea level in June, and then raised to 139 metres in October. But Chongqing Environmental Protection Bureau statistics show that the water quality has declined to Grade 3 since then, the newspaper reported on March 22. According to China’s water-quality index, Grade 3 water is considered poor quality, but still suitable for drinking.

While 17 new wastewater-treatment plants went into operation last year in the Three Gorges area, the facilities were able to treat only 60 per cent of local wastewater, the newspaper said. The plants were built above 175 metres – the eventual height of the reservoir – and so are not dealing with wastewater at lower elevations.

Ye Xuewen, vice-director of the Chongqing water resources bureau, said one-quarter of 207 tributaries of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers in the Chongqing area are “severely polluted” and essentially useless as water resources.

A number of these rivers are rated as low as Grade 5 – and some even below that, at which point water is unfit for any economic purpose, including irrigation.

Mr. Ye attributed the problems to the filling of the Three Gorges reservoir, with the rising water washing garbage and other pollutants into the river, and the slower-flowing Yangtze behind the dam losing some of its capacity to flush waste downstream.

As water quality worsens in the region, Fengjie county, 165 kilometres upstream of the dam, is spending US$30 million to build its own reservoir to provide 130,000 residents with drinking water, Chongqing Business News (Chongqing shangbao) reported on March 5.

“Local people will soon take their last drink of water from the Yangtze. Fengjie is the first county in the Three Gorges area to take this step,” the newspaper said.

The story of Tianxianhu, or Goddess Lake, illustrates how much local people value a clean and beautiful water environment when it is available to them.

Tianxianhu is a large artificial lake that was created by the construction of a 142-metre-high dam on the Zhuxi River, a tributary of the Yangtze. The dam, located near Wanzhou – the largest city between Yichang (site of the Three Gorges dam) and Chongqing, with a population of about half a million – was built to help block Zhuxi River silt from flowing into the Three Gorges reservoir.

The Zhuxi dam was impounded last May, just before the filling of the Three Gorges reservoir. Local residents were thrilled about the large lake that formed behind the Zhuxi dam – a lovely new recreational spot, where they could go to fish and to stroll.

The lake was initially so attractive that the district government developed an ambitious plan for a theme park and a green belt around the lake. And some people began saving to buy their dream home in the bucolic new lake district.

But Tianxianhu is no longer the stuff of dreams: The lake has become a cesspool. By October of last year, it had become so black, fetid and stinking that nobody wanted to spend time there any more.

Untreated waste from factories, along with residential wastewater in the upstream region, turned the pristine lake into a putrid one, the Chongqing Morning Post reported March 22. What’s worse, the newspaper said, black water from the lake now pours directly into the Three Gorges reservoir through a wide flood-relief channel below the Zhuxi dam.

The good news is that the local government now has a plan to deal with pollution in the lake, the newspaper said. The bad news is that it is expected to take eight years to clean up the ungodly mess in Goddess Lake.

Kelly Haggart and Mu Lan, April 1, 2004

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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