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China Moves to Save Second Largest Freshwater Lake
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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 Environment.


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 developed.

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 deprivation.


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 Resources Commission.


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 wetland.


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)

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