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Saving Weihe River
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Shaanxi, an inland province in northwest China, will construct 107 sewage treatment projects over the next five years, aiming to control the pollution in its river basins and better protect its water resources.

In the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) period, the province will concentrate its effort on protecting the environment in the Weihe River, the Hanjiang and the Danjiang rivers with the stern measures to control pollutants being sent to the rivers, said Chen Deming, governor of the province.

"We plan to build 107 sewage treatment projects along the rivers in the province in the 2006-10 plan period, and will develop a number of clean productive enterprises with low pollution discharges to replace present dirty firms which had severely polluted the environment," the governor said, "The huge projects will be completed in three stages."

The total quantity of water resources is insufficient for the province, and the water pollution tendency is a serious matter.

Facing the severe pollution situation of the rivers in the province, the central and local governments have taken measures to effectively control the pollution.

As part of the efforts to protect its environment and control the pollution in the rivers, Shaanxi, with the approval from the central government, decided to invest 4.5 billion yuan (US$554.8 million) from 2006 to 2010 in building comprehensive projects to better protect the Weihe River, according to Hong Feng, vice-governor of Shaanxi Province.

Hong said the projects include construction of waste disposal facilities, industrial restructuring, development of ecological agriculture and high-tech industries, and the further protection of water resources, for example surface and underground waters.

In addition, the provincial government will close all pulp production lines with an annual production capacity under 34,000 tons by the end of this year, and any waste water and sewage discharged to the province's rivers should be treated properly beforehand, the vice-governor said.

Shaanxi will establish an emission permit system to further control the sewage discharge into the rivers and an online supervision system to check out water quality in the rivers is under construction.

"We hope to greatly improve the water quality in our rivers within five to six years," Chen Deming said.

The recent report on Shaanxi's water resources showed that the total annual amount of sewage to the rivers reached 1.1 billion tons, three times more than that in 1980s.

The Weihe River, one of the largest rivers in Shaanxi, alone receives more than 800 million tons of polluted waste and sewage without proper treatment every year, the report said.

And, the official report continued, the level of water supply, utilization and sewage treatment, as well as the reused water is very low, which only intensifies the conflict between the water resources supply and demand.

At present, the province suffers from a water shortage of some 2.1 billion cubic meters annually, and more than 10 million people, roughly one third of its total population, are threatened by dirty drinking water, the local official sources said.

Because of the water shortage, some industrial projects cannot be carried out and the ecological environment improvement was restricted.

Also, the overuse of underground water has caused geological disasters, the official sources said.

The water shortage has bottlenecked Shaanxi's economic and social development, and the limited water resources are polluted, said Li Xiaolian, vice-director of Shaanxi Provincial Environment Protection Bureau.

For example, the Weihe River, which is the only channel for industrial waste and sewage in Central Shaanxi, has become something of a sewage river, turbid and giving off a stink in some sections, the vice-director said.

The Weihe River, the largest tributary of the Yellow River, has a total length of 818 kilometers, of which 502 kilometers are in Shaanxi Province.

The Weihe River Valley is home to 64 per cent of Shaanxi's total population and 72 per cent of its total irrigated farmland. This same river receives 80 per cent of the province's total industrial waste and sewage every year.

The Weihe River is also the one of the major polluting sources, contributing to 18 per cent of the sewage in the Yellow River, Li said.

According to the vice-director, the pollutants in the river are mainly industrial waste, urban sewage and rubbish, and agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers.

"Along the river, which goes throughout the central part of Shaanxi from the west to the east, there are 104 papermaking factories, 40 chemical enterprises and juice processing firms, as well as some 40 other producers that send waste water to the river," Li said.

Lei Jiamin, a farmer living nearby the Weihe River, told Environment China that he and his neighbors used to irrigate their farmland with the water from the river, and they often went fishing in the river in the 1970s.

"But we could not find any fish in the river because they were all killed by pollutants, and the water cannot be used for irrigation. We have to dig deep wells to get water for drinking and irrigation," Lei said.

And the pollution is also harmful to local people's health.

In the past decade, the number of patients suffering from throat and stomach cancers among the residents living near the river have increased unceasingly, which is believed to be caused partly by the seriously polluted water in the river, an official health investigation reported.

(China Daily May 15, 2006)



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