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Huge Investment for Rescuing Baiyangdian Lake
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Baiyangdian is a rare water-land in northern China, but it suffers drying periods annually due to the lack of water. On December 18, 2005, the Hebei provincial government announced its plan for the protection of Baiyangdian Lake. In the coming 10 years, the province will spend 8 billion yuan (US$991 million) to restore the lake's integrated ecosystem.

Located in Baoding City, Hebei Province, Baiyangdian is famed as the "Pearl of North China." The largest freshwater lake in north China, it covers an area of 366 square kilometers. It is also the largest wetland complex on the North China Plain, with a total of 143 open water-bodies.

The shallow lake complex with extensive shoreline makes it highly sensitive to the changes of the surrounding landscapes and environment. The lake catchments are composed equally of mountains and plains, with all waters converging at the bottom. At present, more than 10 million people live in the 39 villages on the lake's shores, engaging in farming and manufacturing. Their gross domestic production has reached US$1.4 billion, and the annual growth rate is as high as 11 percent. Baiyangdian is also considered as the "Kidney of North China," due to its unmatchable contribution to the surrounding areas' groundwater supplies and the ecological environment of Beijing, Tianjin and north China at large.

However, consecutive droughts occurred in the area during 1997- 2003, lowering the lake's water level ceaselessly and affecting the wetlands' ecosystem. As a result, most of the aquatic animals and plants died out. 

According to the General Construction Plan for Baiyangdian Lake and Its Upper Regions, worked out by the governments of Hebei Province and Baoding City and issued in October 2005, 8.05 billion yuan will be put into the program in 10 years from 2005 to 2014. Altogether 26 rehabilitation projects will be launched, aiming to improve the lake's ecological environment in an all-round way. 

Forest coverage in Baoding is expected to reach 28 percent of its total land by 2010, and the water-and-soil conservation rehabilitation project will cover 3,200 square kilometers. Sewage treatment rate in urban and rural areas is designated to reach about 92 percent and 60 percent respectively. A water diversion system will be set up for Baiyangdian to guarantee that the lake's annual average water level is higher than 7.3 meters; and that when the water level goes above 8.4 meters, the water quality can reach the third grade of the National Water Quality Standards or even better.

Cao Jidong, vice director of the Baoding Municipal Development and Reform Commission who is in charge of the program, told Democracy & Law Times on December 25 that the plan reflects the strong determination of the local government. When asked how to raise the fund of 8 billion yuan, Cao said the city government will give strong support and 1.5 billion yuan is in position already.

Cao also revealed that the program has been approved by the central government, which means Baoding may be granted a loan of US$96 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in addition to the US$3.5 million of donation from the Global Environment Facility.

Wang Zhao, an official working for the program, said ADB gives great attention to the program and will likely work as a partner. In February 2006, a third party will be invited to join in. It will provide relevant technological support to help verify the specific projects. Cao added that private capitals are also expected.

Baiyangdian in history

A 70-year-old boatman told Democracy & Law Times on December 25 that the current Baiyangdian Lake is no longer the same one as that in his and many others' memories. Nowadays the lake water stinks, with garbage piling up everywhere on the banks.

"We don't drink its water; instead, we take water from wells," The boatman sighed and continued. "There used to be many varieties of fish, but now it's hard to live on fishing."

How did Baiyangdian look like before? The lake was first recorded in the historical document of Wei Du Fu of the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). In the Sui Dynasty (580-618), owing to the construction of the Grand Canal, several waterways were blocked. Water from the Taihang Mountains flooded from one of the west streams. Water gathered at the depressions of the North China Plain, and the lake was eventually expanded. 

Baiyangdian had its largest size during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) when the second emperor asked people to enhance constructions in the lake area making the water-bodies connected in the purpose of defending the nation from invasions of the Liao.

Since Jin (1115-1234), various dynasties had felled woods in this area for the construction of Beijing. As a result, vegetation was devastated for over 1,000 years. Some water-bodies were gone forever. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) farmlands were developed around the lake, reducing the lake's surface from some 1,000 square kilometers to the present 366 square kilometers.
Professor Cao Yuping from the Life Science School of Hebei University believes the reservoir projects in the 1950s also sped up the disappearance of the water-bodies.

According to Professor Cao, about 1 billion cubic meters of water entered Baiyangdian yearly in the 1950s, but the figure fell to 200 million cubic meters in the 1980s. "There were once over-abundant rainfalls, so the government built many reservoirs to prevent flooding," Cao said. "But after 1963, we never saw any big rainfall." She referred to the four big and 90 medium or small reservoirs, which were built in the intention to prevent floods and at the same time to meet the increasing demand for water of Beijing, Tianjin and other cities and towns. Besides causing changes of natural climate, the reservoir projects actually blocked the waterways to the lake. Even worse, Baiyangdian now lies at Hebei's biggest funnel of groundwater depression and is likely to dry up soon, unless effective measures are taken.

And heavy pollution added chaos. Zhao Jinmin, deputy director of the Baoding Environment Protection Bureau, told Democracy & Law Times that the worst pollution happened during the period of 1988-1992, when Baoding's chemical plants, paper mills, cell plants and oil chemical plants poured 250,000 tons of sewage per day to Baiyangdian. Baoding built its sewage treatment plant in 1998, but it was too late. When fishes were dying out, half of the fishermen lost their jobs.

The Baoding municipal government invested 400 million yuan from 1992 to 1999 to treat the pollution, Zhao Jinmin said, but it did not help much in terms of changing the water quality or adding more water into the lake. During the period from 1997 to 2003, the Chinese government finally realized the big crisis facing Baiyangdian's ecosystem. The Ministry of Water Resources and the Hebei provincial government made joint efforts in transferring 900 million cubic meters of water from the surrounding reservoirs to Baiyangdian.

In 2004, the Ministry of Water Resources and the Hebei provincial government again cooperated in a 25.40-million-yuan project to transfer another 150 million cubic meters of water to Baiyangdian, which temporarily relieved the water shortage crisis. The country's South-to-North Water Diversion Project under construction may also offer a help to Hebei, as well as Baiyangdian.

Furthermore, since the 1990s, the Baoding city government has been developing shelterbelts in Baiyangdian's upstream areas. At the same time, more than 2,000 plants that caused water pollution have been shut down. 

( by Zhang Rui January 15, 2006)



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