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Clearing the way with clean waters

Wang Qian
Updated: Sep 3,2014 10:11 AM     China Daily

The Shanxi Reservoir in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, takes on a new look after efforts by authorities to clean up the area.[Photo/Provided to China Daily]

Concerted efforts to restore reservoir area shine out in nationwide environmental campaign, reports Wang Qian in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.

Zhao Handa used to be a pig farmer in Zhejiang province.

But since February, the 54-year-old has been running a recreational village for tourists instead.

The village had been home to more than 200 pigs. But last year, the pigpens were demolished to help protect the Shanxi reservoir area.

Zhao, 54, became one of Huangtan township’s residents who had to find another way to make a living with the changes.

He decided to open a restaurant in the village first. The three-story eatery has since been doing brisk business, with at least 200 diners a day.

“Besides the restaurant, a water park and several log cabins are also being built,” Zhao said.

He is confident that the clean water and green mountains being maintained in the area will help boost tourism in Huangtan, in turn generating revenue for his new business.

The reservoir, which has a storage capacity of more than 1.8 billion cubic meters, is a crucial water source in the area, supplying 70 percent of the population in Zhejiang’s economic powerhouse of Wenzhou alone.

Zhao, who used to rake in about 2 million yuan ($325,400) a year from farming and producing feed, said sacrificing the stability of his former livelihood for the quality of the water piped to the population of 5 million downstream is “well worth it”.

The former farmer’s optimism reflects the general attitude of most people affected by the local authorities’ move to clean up the area’s water resources. Many residents, increasingly aware of the costs of pollution, are now warming up to the environmental initiatives, which are also beginning to see positive results.

Xue Lezhi, head of Huangtan township, said the local government will provide free training and consultation and allocate subsidies for people who start new businesses instead of farming poultry, to protect the Shanxi reservoir region.

Wenzhou authorities are also providing 20 million yuan in subsidies for five consecutive years starting this year, its water resources bureau said.

Xing Meixiang, a migrant from the reservoir protection zone, was excited about the training. She moved to Juyu township in the reservoir area and became a needlewoman, earning at least 2,000 yuan a month.

“Now my income is stable and the environment is attractive,” Xing said.

Wang Zhenyong, head of Wenzhou’s water resources bureau, said that by the end of 2016, all the residents in the reservoir area will enjoy reliable incomes and improved living conditions.

Workers at the Shanxi Reservoir in Wenzhou put fry into the reservoir in December 2012. [Photo/Provided to China Daily]

For years, agricultural waste and urban wastewater had polluted a river running through the old poultry-farming township from the Shanxi reservoir. Research by local experts showed that poultry farming contributed about 62 percent of the pollutants in the reservoir region.

Waste from pig farming in the reservoir area was also a problem.

But in the one and a half years since the Wenzhou government’s massive green campaign, the number of pigs in the area has dropped from 242,100 to the current 16,600, authorities said.

Following the Wenzhou government’s restoration campaign, the Shanxi reservoir area has since been supporting a renewed ecosystem including birds, fish and aquatic plants.

“As the major source of water for the city, improving the water quality is crucial as it is directly linked to citizens’ health,” Wang said, adding that the top priority is to provide residents with the cleanest water.

Wenzhou water authorities plan to invest more than 1.6 billion yuan before 2017 to clean up the Shanxi reservoir.

As of June, up to 695 million yuan have been used to protect the reservoir and build nearby wastewater and garbage treatment factories, according to the Wenzhou water resources bureau.

The water quality in the reservoir has also improved from the fifth grade to the second grade — certified for extensive drinking water supplies this year.

As one of the earliest coastal cities to open up in China, Wenzhou is again taking the lead in fighting water pollution.

Other cities like Beijing and Shanghai are joining in the battle against water pollution, following decades of industrial growth.

“Guaranteeing safe drinking water to the urban and rural population has been on top of the agenda of water authorities at all levels,” said Zhang Hongxing, an official with the Ministry of Water Resources.

The quality of 90 percent of the nation’s reservoirs for drinking water meets the national standard, according to the ministry.

Since 2006, the Ministry of Water Resources released 175 key source water sites, which are under annual examination and assessment. The Shanxi reservoir is on the list.

The country’s leadership has repeatedly promised all-out efforts to conserve resources and curb pollution. When President Xi Jinping was governor of Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007, he emphasized important water programs that covered the provision of safe drinking water, effective water conservancy and wastewater treatment.

Workers clear trees in August 2013 at the Danjiangkou Reservoir, which also underwent restorations to prepare for the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. [Hao Tongqian / Xinhua]

Feng Qiang, deputy director of the Zhejiang water resources bureau, said that the Zhejiang authorities have vowed to tap technology to provide safe drinking water for its population within seven years.

Premier Li Keqiang has said that China will “declare war” on pollution. The resolve sets out a clear path for improving the environment, with the measures legally enforced, said Meng Wei, head of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

Last year, the government said it will spend 2 trillion yuan to tackle the pollution of scarce water resources.

“These are good signs that the new leaders are paying a lot of attention to environmental issues,” said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. Beijing is showing a strong resolve to upgrade the economy and shift the focus away from heavy industry, Ma said.

“The next step is to translate decision into more action,” Ma said, adding that Wenzhou’s case is a good one to show that water resources can be restored by reducing pollutants.

Local authorities help residents in the reservoir region give up poultry farming to reduce pollutants, release fry into the reservoir to recover its biology and monitor illegal activities such as fishing and waste discharge every day.

But he also admitted that protection of source water sites in other places may be much more complicated than what is being achieved in the Shanxi reservoir area, which has little industrial development with agriculture as the main economic activity.

“China’s water resources are numerous and administered by separate bodies. Due to lack of coordination and a ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ policy, rivers that cross provinces or regions are hard to protect and manage,” Ma said.

As dumping of industrial chemicals, agricultural waste and urban wastewater has contaminated parts of the country’s water resources, recovering source water will not be easy for local water authorities.

The environment has been seriously neglected in the past three decades because of the emphasis on generating GDP, Ma said.

“Change cannot be made overnight, and much work still needs to be done,” Ma said.

Liu Wenjun, a water safety professor with Tsinghua University, said water pollution must be addressed by cutting the source of pollution.

“Water pollution in one region will affect the whole river,” Liu said. Once contaminated, recovering the water source will take dozens of years with lots of investment, Liu said.

Ma pointed to the new Environmental Protection Law as a formidable weapon in the fight against pollution.

The law will take effect on Jan 1, 2015. It will address air, water and soil pollution, providing authorities with more power of enforcement than they previously possessed.

Under the law, authorities will be able to detain regular violators for up to 15 days and impose larger fines on polluters. Legally registered civil society organizations will also be allowed to initiate litigation in the name of public interest and local governments will be required to release information on pollution.

“With the new law and local government’s resolve, water pollution will be solved gradually,” Ma said.

For Zhao Handa, running a village for tourists amid the beautiful mountains and flowing river of Huangtan feels increasingly rewarding.

“Improving the environment brings clean water and attracts more visitors,” he said.