China has issued a document called Dongting Lake Protection
Principles to try to counter the shrinkage and pollution of the
country's second largest freshwater lake in Hunan Province.
The principles were issued at the second Yangtze River Forum
which opened on Sunday in Changsha, capital city of Hunan in
central China, on the theme of "protection, rehabilitation and
development of the Yangtze River and Dongting Lake".
A recent study by the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission
showed that cities along the river discharge at least 14.2 billion
tons of polluted water every year, 42 percent of China's total.
Pollution, damming and too many boats have caused a dramatic
decline in Yangtze aquatic life. With the rare white-flag dolphin
almost certainly extinct, even common species such as carp are
gasping for survival, the report said.
Pollution in the 2,800 sq km Dongting Lake, which flows into the
Yangtze River, the country's longest waterway, has decimated marine
life and spread diseases like schistosomiasis -- caught by swimming
or wading in water where there are parasitic worms.
The document recognizes that the protection and rehabilitation
of Dongting Lake is a huge task.
The context is daunting. "About 70 percent of China's rivers are
polluted and 96 percent of rural villages do not have adequate
sewage plants," according to Yang Dongping, vice president of
Friends of Nature and chief editor of the Green Book of the
The Dongting document calls for in-depth studies of the
interaction between the Yangtze and Dongting, and between humans
and the lake so that the health and equilibrium of the river-lake
system can be restored, disasters prevented and resources
Forum representatives said the top priority must always be given
to safeguarding people's lives and health.
A serious effort must be mounted to protect the wetlands and
biodiversity of Dongting Lake.
For years, the lake area has suffered from encroachment,
sedimentation, diminishing water quality, vanishing wetlands and an
upsurge in schistosomiasis, a disease associated with poverty and
Earlier this month, more than a hundred paper mills that
discharge chemical-laden waste into the lake were ordered closed
after they failed to live up to promises to reduce pollution.
"The impact of human activities on the Yangtze-Dongting water
ecology is largely irreversible," said Yang Guishan, a researcher
from the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology under the
Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"Regulating activities in all the Yangtze drainage areas,
including Dongting Lake, is extremely urgent."
The massive Three Gorges Project could lead to less silting in
the lake, the expert said. This would help ease flood pressure on
the lake, he added.
Other experts disagree. "Higher water levels will worsen
pollution and silting. We have to seek more sustained development,
" said Prof. Weng Lida, former head of the Yangtze River Water
Whatever happens, the Yangtze-Dongting "interactive nexus" will
change and need to be proactively monitored.
The middle Yangtze River boasts a concentrated cluster of lakes.
Dongting Lake is a critical component of the Yangtze River basin
flood control system, and a crucial -- and now deeply imperiled
The first Yangtze River Forum was held in 2005 in Wuhan, the
capital of central China's Hubei Province.
(Xinhua News Agency April 16, 2007)