“Can you smell something?”
Zhang Yadong stands on the banks of a murky stream and wrinkles his nose at the salty odor.
The Chinese government has promised for years to clean up this section of the Songhua River, known as the He Jia Gou stream. But it’s unclear what progress has been made.
Mr. Zhang is using old-fashioned shoe leather to find out.
The stream flows into the main river right before it reaches Harbin, a city of 10 million people in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
Zhang takes in the scene: Across the river, dust swirls around a construction site. Nearby, a rust-colored pipe empties into the stream. On the banks, a few small vegetable plots are nestled against the brown water.