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Plan in place to tackle pollution in dam area
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The cleanliness of the main body of water in China's Three Gorges Dam area has improved a little but water quality in several branches is getting worse, said the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) on Tuesday.

The water quality in the reservoir and higher reaches of the Yangtze River remained at category III -- okay for drinking, aquatic breeding, fisheries and swimming, SEPA said in a newly-amended plan to tackle water pollution in the Three Gorges Dam area and higher reaches of the Yangtze.

But several branches of the river in this area 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 document said.

In September at a forum in Wuhan in the central Hubei Province, Chinese officials and experts admitted the Three Gorges Dam project had caused an array of ecological ills, including more frequent landslides and pollution.

In 2001, the country adopted a 10-year plan to prevent and relieve water pollution in this hydrological project but found flaws after five years of implementation.

"The target of chemical oxygen demand (COD) set for 2005 was not fulfilled," SEPA said.

The COD in body of water in this area, a major index of water quality, was supposed to reduce from 1.356 million tons in 2000 to1.028 million tons in 2005. It stayed at 1.363 million tons.

Although several big waste water plants were built and polluted factories closed or equipped with remediation facilities, some facilities have not been running at full capacity. In addition, two-thirds of the ecological conservation projects in the plan have not yet started, the document said.

The facilities to monitor environmental changes in the whole area were also not in place, it added.

SEPA warned of environmental challenges in the next few years.

The Yangtze's main stream flows along the reservoir more slowly than before. This restrains the water body from self cleaning, thus expanding polluted areas, the document said.

The tide beach, due to the reservoir's seasonal water level change, will expand to 300 square kilometers when the water level rises to 175 meters next year from the current 156 meters. This area will be vulnerable to pollution, it said.

SEPA and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) jointly finished the amendment to the plan last month, aiming to cope with the challenges.

 About 460 projects will be built in next three years with an investment of 22.82 billion yuan (3.13 billion U.S. dollars), according to the plan.

To ensure the implementation, the plan listed several supervision policies. An annual assessment will be made on projects under construction, water quality, pollution volume and management.

"Government officials in charge will be denounced and punished if serious environmental damage happened due to administrative flaws or they try to interfere with enforcement of environmental departments," the document said.

The public is encouraged to supervise the environmental management and report problems. "Citizens, corporations and other organizations shall turn to the court for compensation if being threatened by water pollution."

The China Three Gorges Project Corporation, the dam operator, also introduced its own environmental remediation projects this year. They include a new water plant, a waste water processing factory, a processing ground to handle algae blooms and silt in dammed water and a breeding center for protected fish species in the upper reaches of the river.

The dam, which stands at 185 meters above sea level and holds 39 billion cubic meters of water, began construction in 1994 to tame periodic devastating floods on the Yangtze and generate clean energy.

The 180 billion yuan project reduces the threat of floods on the Yangtze from once every 10 years to once every 100 years.

The government has invested heavily in programs designed to restore and conserve the ecology of the Three Gorges area in recent years, including 12 billion yuan spent on trying to harness geological disasters such as landslides.

It has also closed or relocated 1,500 manufacturing ventures, constructed more than 70 sewage disposal and waste treatment plants and resettled about 70,000 people from disaster-prone areas.

(Xinhua News Agency February 20, 2008)

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