The water quality in several branches of the Three Gorges Dam area is worsening even though the main body of water has been getting slightly cleaner, environmental authorities said this week.
The quality of water in the dam reservoir and higher reaches of the Yangtze River has remained at category III - safe for drinking, aquaculture and swimming - the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) said in an amended plan to tackle water pollution in the area on Tuesday.
SEPA said several branches of the river were becoming less capable of supporting the microbes and plant life that make water fit for drinking and for fish and plants to grow in it.
"The target for chemical oxygen demand (a measure of water quality) set for 2005 was not met," SEPA said.
Although several large wastewater plants have been built and polluted factories closed or equipped with cleaning facilities, some of the facilities have not been running at full capacity.
About two-thirds of the ecological conservation projects in the plan have yet to start, the document stated.
The facilities used to monitor environmental changes in the whole area have also not been put in place, it added.
Similarly, the mainstream of the Yangtze is flowing along the reservoir more slowly than before, the document said. This restrains the water from cleaning itself.
The tide beach, a result of the reservoir's seasonal change in water level, will also expand to 300 sq km when levels rise to 175 m next year from the current 156 m. This area will be vulnerable to pollution, SEPA said.
In 2001, SEPA and the National Development and Reform Commission launched a 10-year plan to prevent and relieve water pollution in the Three Gorges Dam but found flaws after five years of implementation.
Under an amended plan completed on Jan 31, some 460 water quality projects will be undertaken over the next three years at a cost of 22.8 billion yuan (US$3.2 billion).
The public has also been encouraged to play a part in environmental management and report problems associated with the dam.
"Citizens and corporations should turn to the courts for compensation if they are threatened by water pollution," SEPA said.
The China Three Gorges Project Corp, the dam's operator, introduced its own environmental improvement projects this year.
(Xinhua News Agency February 21, 2008)