Three Gorges: the Ecology and Environment

Mu Zi

Whether the Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze River will have a negative ecological and environmental impact has been a widely shared concern ever since the grand project started four years ago. The Government, also concerned about possible effects the project could have, has taken active measures to protect the ecology and environment of the area.

Last year, to ensure healthy ecological development in the region, the Government drafted a plan on the treatment of water pollution in the Three Gorges area. In addition, it also intensified environmental protection in the massive resettlement project, which involves moving the people of several cities in the Three Gorges to new locations. By 1999, about 14 million yuan in resettlement funds had been poured into eight environmental protection projects in the area.

One of these projects was the relocation of Zigui County in Hubei Province. The local government took active measures to ensure that the new town would be environmental friendly. The Government has readjusted the industrial structure to reduce the ratio of heavily polluting industries and banned the construction of any project that might cause environmental hazards at scenic spots or sources of drinking water. As a result, the water quality of the river that flows through the new town has improved quite a bit.

All of these measures have had a positive impact. According to a report released by the State Environmental Protection Administration, the Three Gorges Project, which has entered its second phase of construction, has not had any serious impact on the environment so far.

The report was based on the updated monitoring results on the ecological and environmental conditions at the Three Gorges. Since the project was launched, an ecological and environmental monitoring network has been in operation, keeping a day-to-day record of the ecological and environmental changes in the region.

The report shows that: there has been healthy and rapid social and economic development at the Three Gorges; there is no abnormality in human health; the ecological conditions remain unchanged, with an abundance of plants, some recovered fishing resources and well protected rare fishes such as the Chinese sturgeon and white-fin dolphin; industrial pollution has been alleviated; and the quality of the water has remained unchanged.

However, the results of the monitoring also indicate that human activities at the Three Gorges have caused some ecological and environmental problems: a few rare fishes and birds now have become short-term visitors; forest area is decreasing and the erosion problem is becoming serious; geological disasters such as landslides occur more frequently; pollution has been caused by ships and garbage dumping; and sewage systems in urban areas along the river are undeveloped, with most of the sewage water and garbage dumped directly into or along the river.

The following are the major ecological and environmental statistics obtained from the monitoring conducted last year at the Three Gorges.

Ecological Conditions

*Climate. The climate at the Three Gorges in 1999 was basically normal. There was no serious flooding or drought, though there were heavy rains that caused flooding in the summer and abnormally cold weather in the spring and fall in some areas. Following the devastating floods in the summer of 1998, there were droughts in the fall in most parts of the region. The drought continued into early 1999, causing crop failure in some areas.

*Land plants. There is a total of 6,388 species of higher plants in the area, 188 of which are under key State protection and 57 of which are rare and near extinction. There are more than 8,000 ancient trees, 29 of which will be submerged in water after the dam is completed.

*Land animals. Animals and birds close to extinction include mandarin ducks and golden monkeys. It has not yet been determined how the mandarin ducks will fare after the construction of the reservoir because their living environment will have changed quite a bit.

*Fishing resources and environment. The fishing output in 1999 in the area was 3,612 tons, down 67.16 percent from 1998. A test of the water quality on the river shows that the fishing waters were polluted to some extent, with the copper and petroleum content exceeding set limits.

*Rare animals near extinction. In 1999, some 107 species of fish were found in the area, 18 of them having just been recorded and 24 of them living only in the Yangtze. Between 1997 and 1999, a total of 31 species of fish indigenous to the Yangtze were discovered. In 1999, concentrated spawning of Chinese sturgeons occurred twice in the area, on a scale slightly larger than that in 1998. From 1997 to 1999, 33 white-fin dolphins and 7,489 river dolphins were found. No poaching of the white sturgeon was reported in 1999.

*Agricultural ecology. A survey conducted in the 19 counties and 199 townships in the area last year showed that the coverage of cultivated land was decreasing, with the farmland recording a high multi-crop index. Monitoring results indicate that the farmland in the area was not polluted.

*Geological disasters. Last year, 450 geological disasters, including landslides and mud-rock flows, occurred, causing 500 million yuan of economic losses.

Emission of Pollutants

*Major sources of industrial pollution. In 1999, Chongqing discharged 902.2 million tons of industrial waste water, 82.89 percent of which was treated, with 66.38 percent reaching the national standard for discharged waste water. The top three polluting industries were the chemical, food, tobacco and beverage processing, and ferrous metal smelting and forging industries.

Monitoring of 124 main sources of industrial pollution in the area showed that the pollutants mainly came from downtown Chongqing, Jiangjin City, Changshou County, Fuling District and Wanzhou District, which contributed to 93.9 percent of the industrial waste water that flowed into the Yangtze. The 124 sources discharged 244 million tons of waste water in 1999, chiefly containing COD, ammonia nitrogen and phosperus. Compared with the previous year, the waste water discharge in the Three Gorges area increased by 117 million tons.

*Urban sewage water. There are 66 outlets of urban sewage water that flow directly into the Yangtze River. The annual sewage water discharge there is estimated to be 323 million tons, most of which comes from downtown Chongqing, Wanzhou District and Fuling District. The main pollutants were BOD, COD and ammonia nitrogen. The monitoring conducted in 1999 at the 10 typical sewage water outlets found that the amount of the discharge was within the normal range.

*Industrial solid waste and domestic waste. In 1999, industries in Chongqing produced 15.11 million tons of solid waste, which included 518,100 tons of hazard waste, 578,100 tons of dregs and 169,600 tons of soot.

Each year the city also produces 2.19 million tons of domestic waste and dumps about 21.7 million tons of waste on the river bank.

*Pesticide and chemical fertilizer pollution. A total of 132,200 tons of fertilizer were used in the area, averaging 526.87 kg per hectare, lower than that in 1998. The quality of the soil improved to some extent, with a slowing of nitrogen and potassium loss.

*Pollution caused by vessels. Last year, 808 vessels at the Three Gorges were monitored and another 8,755 vessels were surveyed for the discharge of sewage water. Results showed that the vessels discharged 779,000 tons of sewage water into the Three Gorges, only 74.1 percent of which was treated. Among the 147.14 tons of discharged pollutants, 57.8 percent were petroleum pollutants, representing a 48 percent increase over the previous year. While most of the pollution was caused by passenger ships in 1998, cargo ships contributed to most of the pollution last year. Twenty pollution accidents caused by vessels occurred there in 1999, discharging 11.8 tons of diesel oil and 100 tons of polluted water, and dumping 20 bags of garbage into the Three Gorges section of the Yangtze. Though the number of pollution accidents was not as many as that in 1998, the impact was more serious.

Quality of the Environment

Twelve monitoring surveys were conducted in 1999 at the river sections of 10 major cities. The results indicate that, in general, the quality of the water was fine, but slightly worse than in 1998.

There are 12 major industrial waste water outlets and 66 urban sewage water outlets at the Three Gorges. The monitoring results show that some sections of the river along the outlets are heavily polluted. Compared with 1998, however, the area of polluted water has been reduced by 1.43 km.

Twelve monitoring surveys were also conducted at 10 different parts of the river and its tributaries. The results showed that the quality of the water of both the main stream and the tributaries of the Yangtze was good, with the construction of the Three Gorges Project causing little impact.

Monitoring of the water, atmospheric and acoustic environment in the construction area showed that the air quality was up to national standards, with the noise pollution dropping slightly from the previous year.

(Beijing Review)

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