A re­flec­tion on pure wa­ter

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Heyuan, in north­east­ern Guang­dong prov­ince, is tran­quil and pic­turesque, sur­rounded by an ev­er­green for­est. It is a city of squat build­ings and light traf­fic, with a river run­ning through downtown, giv­ing off pleas­ant fresh­ness, to the Wan­lyu Lake in the ru­ral area.

In sharp con­trast to most cities in the prov­ince, Heyuan has seen its econ­omy stag­nate, pass­ing up lu­cra­tive de­vel­op­ment projects, all in quest of main­tain­ing pure fresh wa­ter from the nearby Wan­lyu, one of the prin­ci­ple fresh wa­ter sources for Hong Kong.

“Pro­tect­ing the lake is the city’s top priority,” said Gong Zuolin, chair­woman of the Heyuan Mu­nic­i­pal Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence (CPPCC). She added that the au­thor­ity be­lieves “green hills and clear wa­ters are as pre­cious as gold in con­tribut­ing to the city’s de­vel­op­ment in the long run.”

Some 3.6 miles from downtown Heyuan, Lai Jin­song sets out in a boat on Wan­lyu Lake. Lai is the deputy of the Wan­lyu Lake En­vi­ron­men­tal Su­per­vi­sion Branch. His job is to over­see the lake which sup­plies nearly 40 per­cent of Hong Kong’s fresh wa­ter.

Lai sel­dom gets to travel to Hong Kong — but he is the man who plays a hefty role in main­tain­ing the pu­rity of the city’s fresh wa­ter sup­ply. “I hope Hong Kong peo­ple know how much we have sac­ri­ficed and how hard we try to guar­an­tee the wa­ter qual­ity,” said Lai.

Wan­lyu in Chi­nese means “ev­er­green”. The lake earned its name from the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment and from the wa­ter which re­mains clear all year round. China Daily took a 30-minute boat trip around the lake. In sight, the sun bounced on the lake’s calm. The re­flec­tions of the trees at the wa­ter’s edge added an aqua­ma­rine hue to the wa­ter. Even the sur­round­ing air smelled fresh and pleas­ant in the af­ter­noon breeze.

Also known as Xin­fengjiang Reser­voir, Wan­lyu Lake is the largest man-made lake in Guang­dong prov­ince with a wa­ter stor­age ca­pac­ity of 13.9 bil­lion cu­bic me­ters.

Wan­lyu Lake pro­vides half of the fresh wa­ter from the DongjiangShen­zhen Wa­ter Sup­ply Project. The project has two sources, Wan­lyu Lake and the Dongjiang River. The project is the source of the greater part of Hong Kong’s wa­ter sup­ply, the SAR’s guar­an­tee of a sta­ble fresh wa­ter sup­ply since March 1965. It’s of­ten called Hong Kong’s lifeblood.

Twice a week, Lai pa­trols the lake with a team of tech­ni­cians, col­lect­ing wa­ter sam­ples all over the lake, then send­ing them to be checked out in a lab. Once the wa­ter sam­ples fail to meet the cri­te­ria for Hong Kong’s drink­ing wa­ter, Lai and his team would set out to trace pol­lu­tants that may have caused that.

Lai de­scribed the search as the “only ex­cite­ment” on his job, which he has been do­ing for nearly six years. Ac­cord­ing to him, the “ex­cite­ment” usu­ally means days of search in sur­round­ing forests and vil­lages, with no ad­vanced re­search tools, only the na­tive pow­ers of hu­man per­cep­tion.

“I take pride in the wa­ter we send to Hong Kong. It is of supreme qual­ity,” Lai said. He con­tin­ued that the gen­eral wa­ter qual­ity of Wan­lyu Lake is at the Class II na­tional stan­dard for drink­ing wa­ter. In some parts of the lake it reaches Class I.

Ac­cord­ing to China’s drink­ing wa­ter stan­dards, wa­ter that reaches Class III is still potable. The top three lev­els are clas­si­fied as pre­mium qual­ity drink­ing wa­ter, from first class pro­tected ar­eas or na­tional na­ture re­serves. “Wa­ter of Class I can be drunk di­rectly with­out be­ing pro­cessed,” Lai ex­plained.

Craspeda­custa, a kind of fresh­wa­ter jel­ly­fish that’s called “panda in the wa­ter”, has been found in­hab­it­ing some parts of Wan­lyu Lake. The jel­ly­fish, with 550 mil­lion years of his­tory, sur­vive only in wa­ter that is free of pol­lu­tion.

The work is done only by Lai and his five team mem­bers. There is one big headache, “My team is short of hands,” he said.

“We do more than just sit­ting on a boat. Wa­ter sam­ples are col­lected five me­ters and 10 me­ters from the sur­face re­spec­tively and from dif­fer­ent parts of the lake. Back from the pa­trols, we need to do qual­ity checks on the sam­ples. If the wa­ter qual­ity does not meet the Class II cri­te­ria, we have to in­ves­ti­gate the causes,” Lai said.

The causes of pol­lu­tion are of­ten re­lated to il­le­gal pri­vate min­ing. Heyuan is a min­eral-rich city with 32 kinds of min­eral re­sources. Among them, iron ore de­posits take the lead, with the re­serve vol­ume reach­ing 276 mil­lion tons, ac­count­ing for 39 per­cent of Guang­dong’s to­tal iron ore de­posits.

Small mine work­shops, usu­ally fam­ily-run, with­out ap­proval from the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment, il­le­gally ex­ploit the city’s iron-ore de­posits. These op­er­a­tions of­ten hide deep in the for­est. It usu­ally takes days, even weeks for Lai’s team to lo­cate them.

Pro­tect­ing wa­ter qual­ity is a pro­foundly im­por­tant project that re­quires mul­ti­ple ef­forts, as well as a great deal of money. Be­sides al­lo­cat­ing Lai’s de­part­ment an an­nual fund­ing of 30 mil­lion yuan (HK$33.5 mil­lion), the city’s mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment also spends money in en­sur­ing no do­mes­tic waste­water goes to the lake. Heyuan CPPCC chair­woman Gong told China Daily that the gov­ern­ment has so far in­vested 30 mil­lion yuan to clean up house­boats on the lake, re­lo­cat­ing around 1,000 peo­ple back to houses on land.

In ad­di­tion, the city also strives to ex­pand ur­ban green ar­eas. The Linhu Qil­ing Dongjiang Tangxia Jinihu Shen­zhen Peser­voir Muk Wu

for­est cover reached 74.3 per­cent in 2015, with 16.8 per­cent of the city’s land oc­cu­pied by na­ture re­serves.

“The green ar­eas in the city help to curb acid rain which would se­ri­ously con­tam­i­nate Wan­lyu Lake. And the work to re­move acid is in­ten­sive,” said Lai. Heyuan is the only city in Guang­dong that ex­pe­ri­ences no acid rain through­out the year.

All this ef­fort has come at heavy cost for the city that has turned down 300 in­vest­ment projects which posed po­ten­tial pol­lu­tion threats to the lake. About 4,700 mines were closed in the in­ter­ests of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. The cost of those mea­sures to pro­tect the wa­ter brought a de­crease of 50 bil­lion yuan

in the city’s GDP, Gong said.

Data from Heyuan Statis­tics In­for­ma­tion Net­work show that the city’s GDP in 2015 to­taled around 81 bil­lion yuan, ac­count­ing for only 8 per­cent of Guang­dong’s pro­vin­cial GDP. While the an­nual per capita GDP of Heyuan reached only 26,401 yuan, half of the pro­vin­cial av­er­age.

Gong said de­spite the eco­nomic set­back, the city was do­ing “a right thing”. “In or­der to send good qual­ity wa­ter to Hong Kong peo­ple, Heyuan has no com­plaints or re­grets in turn­ing down prof­itable busi­ness,” she added.

Con­tact the writer at willa@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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