Price of clean wa­ter ‘a good deal’

An­hui, Zhe­jiang prov­inces have win-win ar­range­ment in car­ing for Xin’an River

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By PEI PEI in Huang­shan, An­hui peipei@chi­

When the lo­cal govern­ment un­der­took a wa­ter qual­ity project five years ago, Hu Chengjiu, a farmer in Huang­shan, An­hui province, had no idea what a big dif­fer­ence it would make on his life.

House­hold rub­bish is now strictly sorted, san­i­tary waste­water is prop­erly pro­cessed and toxic pes­ti­cides have been re­placed by low-tox­i­c­ity ones to min­i­mize en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

What looked at first like noth­ing but ex­tra work has brought tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to the in­hab­i­tants of Ban­qiao town­ship. The wa­ter in the nearby creek, which orig­i­nates in moun­tain springs and fills Hu’s fish­pond, now meets drink­ing wa­ter stan­dards.

Thanks to the springs’ rich min­eral el­e­ments, the fish liv­ing in it are thought to be more nu­tri­tious and sell for 10 times more than reg­u­lar mar­ket price.

“The carp I raise taste finer and juicier,” Hu said. “The an­swer lies in the wa­ter.”

Hu is one of mil­lions of peo­ple ben­e­fit­ing from a col­lab­o­ra­tive eco­log­i­cal preser­va­tion project be­tween An­hui and Zhe­jiang prov­inces, through which the 373-kilo­me­ter Xin’an River passes.

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, wa­ter in about one-third of China’s big rivers failed to meet drink­ing stan­dards, even af­ter pro­cess­ing, in 2015 when China pub­lished its first Wa­ter Pol­lu­tion Pre­ven­tion and Treat­ment Ac­tion Plan. The aim is to make at least 75 per­cent of wa­ter in ma­jor rivers clean by 2030.

The two-province suc­cess on the Xin’an River has con­sid­er­able ref­er­ence value for other ef­forts on big rivers to con­trol wa­ter pol­lu­tion and pro­vide treat­ment.

The stream near Hu’s vil­lage is on a part of the Xin’an River that has more than 680 trib­u­taries within a drainage area of more than 11,000 square kilo­me­ters be­fore en­ter­ing the East China Sea via Zhe­jiang province.

In the south­ern part of China’s pros­per­ous Yangtze River Delta, the area along the Xin’an River has long pro­vided an abun­dance of fish and rice.

Agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment and con­ve­nient wa­ter trans­port has en­cour­aged in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial growth, which has in­creased ac­tiv­ity on the river.

In 1959, a hy­dro­elec­tric power sta­tion was built down­stream, form­ing Qian­dao Lake, a 580-sq-km ar­ti­fi­cial lake with 1,078 is­lands cov­ered with lush veg­e­ta­tion, 129 km west of Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang’s cap­i­tal.

“Al­though the wa­ter of Qian­dao Lake is good, it has been de­clin­ing since 2000,” said Nie Weip­ing, the Xin’an River pro­tec­tion bureau chief in Huang­shan. “If we do not con­trol it, its fu­ture as an ar­ti­fi­cial lake could be in jeop­ardy.”

In 2001, the Qian­dao Lake Scenic Area was clas­si­fied as a 5A tourist spot, the high­est level, by the na­tional tourism author­ity. It at­tracts more than 10 mil­lion vis­i­tors every year and is re­garded as one of the most beau­ti­ful and clean­est lakes in China.

The Xin’an River orig­i­nates from an­other 5A scenic spot — Yel­low Moun­tain, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site known for its nat­u­ral beauty and as the cra­dle of the Hui cul­ture.

With two ar­eas of nat­u­ral beauty on the river, the de­ci­sion to strengthen co­op­er­a­tion on eco­log­i­cal preser­va­tion be­tween An­hui and Zhe­jiang is un­der­stand­able.

Zhe­jiang first pro­posed the idea in 2004. But it took seven years to trans­late words to deeds, and it wasn’t un­til 2011 that the cross-pro­vin­cial eco­log­i­cal preser­va­tion mech­a­nism was en­acted.

The four wa­ter qual­ity in­di­ca­tors — per­man­ganate in­dex, to­tal phos­pho­rus, to­tal ni­tro­gen and am­mo­nia ni­tro­gen — are mon­i­tored on an hourly ba­sis through­out the year on a sec­tion of the river on the pro­vin­cial bor­der.

If the over­all an­nual wa­ter qual­ity falls be­low a bench­mark stan­dard agreed by both sides, An­hui, which lies up­stream, must com­pen­sate Zhe­jiang 100 mil­lion yuan ($15 mil­lion) to cover its wa­ter treat­ment costs.

If the over­all an­nual wa­ter qual­ity is above the stan­dard, it means An­hui has ful­filled its re­spon­si­bil­ity in pro­tect­ing the river and Zhe­jiang must give An­hui 100 mil­lion yuan to help it cover the costs of its eco­log­i­cal preser­va­tion work.

In ad­di­tion, the cen­tral govern­ment sets aside 300 mil­lion yuan each year to sup­port An­hui’s ef­forts in main­tain­ing wa­ter qual­ity.

Thanks to An­hui’s mea­sures, wa­ter flow­ing to Zhe­jiang has met the qual­ity stan­dard every year since 2012, which means it qual­i­fies to re­ceive an­nual fi­nan­cial sup­port from both Zhe­jiang and the cen­tral govern­ment.

“Every year, the Xin’an River pours about 6 bil­lion met­ric tons of clean wa­ter into Qian­dao Lake, cost­ing Zhe­jiang only 100 mil­lion yuan. It is re­ally a good deal,” Nie said.

Last year, Zhe­jiang’s av­er­age per capita GDP was $12,635; in An­hui it was $5,835.

Nie be­lieves the Xin’an River man­age­ment model of­fers valu­able lessons for the pro­tec­tion of other big rivers, al­low­ing bet­ter-off down­stream prov­inces to help the of­ten less-de­vel­oped up­stream re­gions pro­tect lo­cal ecol­ogy and en­vi­ron­ment.

The de­vel­op­ment gap is more pro­nounced on longer rivers such as the Yangtze, which has Qing­hai province at one end and Jiangsu province at the other. Qing­hai is more than seven times larger than Jiangsu in area, while Jiangsu’s econ­omy is about 30 times that of Qing­hai.

Ex­perts be­lieve it is im­per­a­tive for the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties to im­ple­ment the in­ter­provin­cial eco­log­i­cal com­pen­sa­tion mech­a­nism to help eco­log­i­cally frag­ile places like Qing­hai — where both the Yel­low River and Yangtze start — to step up their ef­forts in eco­log­i­cal preser­va­tion.

In April 2014, Zhe­jiang sug­gested that the work­ing mech­a­nism with An­hui be con­tin­ued, and both sides agreed to in­crease the com­pen­sa­tion to 200 mil­lion yuan each year. The wa­ter qual­ity bench­mark stan­dard was in­creased by 7 per­cent­age points from the pre­vi­ous level.

Ex­clud­ing the com­pen­sat­ing funds from Zhe­jiang and the cen­tral govern­ment, An­hui’s ex­pen­di­ture to en­sure the Xin’an River wa­ter qual­ity met the agreed stan­dards was 8.79 bil­lion yuan at the end of 2016. This mostly went to­ward vil­lage pol­lu­tion con­trol, ur­ban house­hold rub­bish and waste­water treat­ment, in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion con­trol and the com­pre­hen­sive treat­ment and eco­log­i­cal restora­tion of key wa­ter­courses.

Since 2011, the An­hui pro­vin­cial govern­ment has placed greater weight on Huang­shan’s eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion work than on its eco­nomic growth in the eval­u­a­tion of the city govern­ment’s per­for­mance. The changes have had a huge im­pact on the lives of the Huang­shan peo­ple.

An aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is now in­grained in the minds of not only civil ser­vants but all the in­hab­i­tants of the city.

The city has shut down more than 170 pol­lut­ing mills, re­lo­cated more than 90 en­ter­prises, and up­graded about 510 in­dus­trial projects to meet the strict en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

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