A New War on Taihu Lake – Southern Weekend
Wu Shouxin (Âê¥ÂØøÈë´), a 68-year-old retired teacher, lives right off a tiny river called Lengdu Gang (ÂÜ∑Ê∏éÊ∏Ø), part of the water system of Taihu Lake. His first thing every morning, over the past seven years, has been taking note of the water condition of his home-side waterway. From April to June this year, according to Wu’s notes, the river was “black and smelly” 87% of the time. On July 28, the river was dark green and smelled of blue algae.
This gravely ill lake, which has fed millions in cities around it, has cut off the drinking water for days to rapidly industrializing lake-side towns, including Wuxi (Êó†Èî°), home to more than 5 million and known by many as the “little Shanghai.” The situation has gotten so bad that Jiangsu provincial party secretary Li Yuanchao (ÊùéÊ∫êÊΩÆ) vowed to impose on the “most strict environmental protection system to clean up the lake, even if the GDP drops 15%.”
Wuxi has been a local economic hub and the “market for rice and cloth” since the early 19th century. In an industry report by the Nationalist government in 1937, its industrial output was third only to Shanghai and Guangzhou. But industrialization, especially since the 1990s, has transformed a light-industry town into one with major heavy industry plants, which now account for 74% of all industry, up from only 30% in 1940s. Metal refinery, machinery, chemical processing boomed.
But in a 1996 Taihu Lake cleanup meeting held in Wuxi, local officials promised to restore the “cleaniness” of the lake by 2000. A local EPA official expressed doubt about the goal but was seriously criticized in the meeting, being accused of undermining the government’s confidence. It turns out, however, what the EPA official said has proven right: the cleanup, run up to tens of billions (of yuan) in costs, has pretty much failed.
This time around, the resolve of various levels of government seems to be much firmer than last time. And local officials in charge of economic planning have all felt the real pressure to close down many highly polluting factories, numbering in the hundreds. They are also aware, of course, this means a great short-term pain, in terms of lost tax revenues. But the good news is, there is a great deal of consensus among these officials that they have no alternative, and many of them are thinking far into the future: encouraging the development of hi-tech, service-oriented and less polluting sectors, including animation and technology R&D.
Industrial pollution, some researchers say, is but part of the problem. Two other concerns are the overuse of fertilizer and the lack of sewage treatment. In 1998, an estimated 320 million cubic meters of residential sewage was dumped into the lake and its waterways. By 2000, the volume went up five times. In the late 1970s, farmers here used about 24.4 kilograms of chemical fertilizer on every hectare of farm. Now that number is 66.7 kilos, almost triple the max of usage in developed countries. About 70% of the fertilizer gets lost in the environment and runs off into the water system.
Now with the many major polluters slated to close doors around the lake, many of them are looking north, into the poorer part of Jiangsu Province or Anhui. Some towns there, including Xuzhou, Huai’an and Taizhou are starting to lure those that have to move soon. If these companies mass-move north, will the same story play out there again? [Full Text in Chinese]
[Image: Taihu Lake and its green soup-like water during algae bloom, from Southern Weekend]