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River cleanup results in numerous benefits

By HOU LIQIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2022-07-18 07:00
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The density of major pollutants in the Lianjiang has fallen significantly following the introduction of efforts to control pollution and monitor the environment. ZHANG KE/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Rejuvenated Guangdong waterway bustles with activity again

The Lianjiang, a river that flows through Guangdong province, was in pristine condition before years of development in its densely populated basin area in the early 1990s left the waterway black and odorous.

When members of a central government environmental inspection team visited the Lianjiang in 2018, they said there was almost no oxygen in the water, and no aquatic life could survive in the river.

However, in the past four years, the Lianjiang, which flows into the sea in the city of Shantou, has been gradually rejuvenated.

The odor has gone from many stretches of the river that locals used to avoid as much as possible. Tourists have also returned to the Lianjiang, along with waterfowl.

The changes made to the river are just a small part of the environmental transformation resulting from the inspection missions, which were launched in 2016.

This work has smoothed the path to an ecological civilization, a concept promoted by President Xi Jinping for balanced and sustainable development featuring harmonious coexistence of mankind and nature.

Zhai Qing, vice-minister of ecology and environment, said central environmental inspections are a major institutional innovation that Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, planned, made decisions about, and promoted personally.

At a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office on July 6, Zhai also said Xi delivered speeches and issued instructions several times when the inspection work reached a critical stage.

Inspection teams, which are usually led by ministerial-level officials, report to a central group led by Vice-Premier Han Zheng, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. The inspection office is based in the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.

The direct cause of heavy pollution in the Lianjiang was inadequate capacity to dispose of wastewater in the river basin, according to the ministry. In 2018, for example, more than 600,000 metric tons of wastewater were generated in the Lianjiang Basin every day. However, the sewage disposal capacity barely met 50 percent of this demand.

Many textile printing and dyeing factories attracted to the Lianjiang Basin in the 1990s often directly discharged wastewater into the river, which became increasingly polluted.

When the inspectors visited the Lianjiang for the first time in late 2016, they gave the local authorities specific requirements to rectify violations that caused pollution in the river, with the Guangdong government drafting a rectification plan.

The inspectors routinely followed up rectification work and also revisited the river to check on progress. When they visited the Lianjiang again in 2018, however, they found that none of the 13 rectification programs planned by the government had been carried out.

Water samples taken from the Lianjiang by the inspectors were as black as ink. Tests showed that the oxygen density was only about 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter. Most fish cannot survive for long if this concentration is below 5 mg per cu m.

Shocked by the lack of progress with rectification work, Zhai, the vice-minister and also deputy head of the inspection team, suggested that leading Shantou government officials should live near the river to promote the work.

"They should live with residents along the Lianjiang until the water is no longer black and odorous," he said.

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