What's it like living in wetlands? For villagers of Pixian county in Southwest China's Sichuan province, the answer is a definite "fantastic."
Artificial wetlands in Yuantian village, Sichuan province. The project was funded by Coca-Cola and built by the World Wide Fund For Nature in cooperation with locals in May last year. [China Daily]
Ten families are enjoying the artificially constructed wetlands that help purify household wastewater and beautify the landscape of the county, about 10 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, thanks to a pilot program introduced by World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) China and sponsored by the soft drink giant Coca-Cola Co.
Consisting of reeds, cannas and water hyacinth, the artificial wetland looks like a little lake and functions the same as the natural version, removing sediment and pollutants from wastewater that would otherwise end up harming the nearby Youzi River, a tributary of the upper Yangtze River.
Cheng Can, a program officer at WWF China's Chengdu office, explained that "grey water" - most domestically created wastewater excluding that used for human and animal waste - is collected through a drainpipe and sent to the wetland. The plants will absorb toxins in the water and produce microorganisms that help purify it.
But that is not the end of story. The clean water from the wetland can be used for irrigating and growing organic vegetables, which reap good profits. The wetland also produces fertile soil for villagers.
"It is not a new idea but it has been adopted in a key location," said Li Ye, head of WWF China's Chengdu office, who has been tracking the program for three years.
"The Yangtze basin is our priority in water conservation, while Minjiang River and Jialing River are two of the most important branches of the upper Yangtze River basin. Moreover, Pixian county, right beside Minjiang River, is a water resource for Chengdu, providing 80 percent of the city's water supply," Li Ye said.
As the largest river in China, the Yangtze travels 6,300 kilometers and provides China with close to 40 percent of its fresh water.
Li said that wastewater treatment systems are either inefficient or absent in rural areas. A lot of the residents of Pixian county are dispersed widely, so wastewater from baths, laundry or washing machines normally flows into rivers or gets into the groundwater, posing a threat to the water sanitation of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan with a population of about 14 million.
The artificial wetland experiment is just part of a larger program named The Yangtze Partnership jointly launched by WWF and Coca-Cola in June 2007. Over the last four years, water conservation activities have been carried out in 25 wetland nature reserves in the Jialing river watershed
A further $2 million will be donated to the Yangtze Partnership by Coca-Cola, said Geoff Walsh, the director of Pacific group public affairs and communications at Coca-Cola, on May 12. That will raise the total funding to $4.5 million.
"Water is core to our business," Walsh said. "The Coca-Cola Company today helps protect and conserve water resources in some 86 countries. This is an issue that is integrated with our business."
The company also announced it will donate another $2 million to support the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Water Stewardship Program in China, which helps manage water resource efficiency and drinking water safety in China. The program was initiated in 2007 as a unique public-private partnership between Coca-Cola, the Chinese government's Ministry of Water Resources and Ministry of Commerce and the UNDP.
"This added donation will allow us to continue our work toward enhancing the supply of fresh water," said Zhu Chunquan, conservation director of biodiversity and operations at WWF China.
Li said it is important to get financial support because pilot programs do not always run smoothly and unexpected problems can arise.
"We built a large wetland for about 200 people in Yuantian village in Pixian county last year. It was successful but, when winter came, some wetland plants died in the freezing weather. Now we are trying to introduce cold-resistant plants with stronger roots."
Zhu said the next initiative will focus on protecting and restoring freshwater ecosystems, which will promote an ecological approach to river restoration and wastewater treatment across key freshwater habitats in the upper Yangtze.
Li and her colleagues are investigating a market-driven organic agriculture model based on the artificial wetlands. "We try to collect as much wetland water as possible, pipe it to organic farmland and encourage city dwellers to visit villagers' houses so they can see how organic vegetables are cultivated," she said.
"The villagers can be motivated to build artificial wetlands as long as their products sell well in the market.
"Once, a villager was asked why he supported building wetlands. He answered, 'because it is good for one's health'. That's the simple truth."