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Yangtze River management faces huge challenges, WWF expert
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13:16, August 25, 2009

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Chinese government has done a lot in the water management of large rivers and lakes in China in recent years, but huge challenges remain, said Dr Li Lifeng, World Wild Fund, WWF fresh water expert during the World Water Week held on August 16-22 in Stockholm.

In an exclusive interview with People's Daily Online, Dr. Li said China has realized in recent years, especially after the 1999 flood along the Yangtze river that the water management not only involves water sector but also many other sectors such as land, agriculture, environment, energy, forestry, navigation and many others. China has proposed the ideas of ‘harmony between man and water' and the river management institutions should be the representatives of all the people along the Yangtze river reaches.

The Yangtze river is the world's third largest river and the largest river in China. It flows across 19 provinces, municipalities and regions. It feeds one third of the 1.3 billion Chinese population and 40% of Chinese GDP. How to well manage, utilize and protect our mother river indeed poses huge challenges.

Dr. Li Lifeng said that traditionally, China's way of managing the river was mainly to serve the purpose of flood control. Thus it divided into so many areas and sectors but lack of coordinated system. Since 2002, China issued an amended Water Law which changed the way of traditional management into a comprehensive management involving all the related sectors and stakeholders.

Now the specific challenge for the Yangtze River is pollution and ecological concerns.

"It is a bit worrisome that there is a trend that the pollution along the Yangtze River is moving from the lower to the upper reaches, or from eastern to the western region. This is really worrisome," said Dr. Li.
With the economic development more measures have been taken to control and treat pollution in eastern China. But due to lack of awareness and lower economic development in western regions, the pollution in the source of the Yangtze River aroused attention now.

"Another big pollution source is the agricultural pollution because large amount of nitrogen and phosphor as well as pesticide were used in agriculture. This caused a lot of pollution along the Yangtze River. For example the Taihu Lake blue algae to the large extent was due to agriculture," said Dr. Li.

Three Gorges project should have a fourth goal

The second largest challenge is the ecosystem concern. Due to the hydrological power development, there are many dams built along the Yangtze River. For example, the construction of the Gezhouba Dam forgot the fact that Chinese Sturgeon needs to swim back to Jinsha River to produce eggs. Remedy methods have been taken to raise more artificially cultivated Chinese Sturgeon. But now the Three Gorges Project which located in the upper reaches of Gezhouba also needed huge amount of storage of water. Whether such storage of water can affect Chinese Sturgeon's production of eggs below Gezouba or not needs further study and if yes, what measures can be taken to avoid this problem. This proposes the fourth goal for the Three Gorges Project management, said Dr. Li.
The first three objectives of the Three Gorges Project are to prevent flood which is very important for the people in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, navigation and generation of electric power.

Dr. Li said with the purpose of flood control, China built a lot of dams or gates along the Yangtze by cutting connection between the river and the lakes. But some fishes lay eggs in the lakes and then go back to the river. Cutting off the passage between the lakes and rivers has caused great impact on the fishing industry in the Yantze River which produces 80% of the fish siblings for artificial cultivation of fishes in China. Compared with the 1960s, the fish production in the Yantze River reduced 10 times.

Dr. Li said to develop green energy is a new subject because ideally people do not build dams on the main artery of the river, but rather develop hydropower on selected branches.

This is because the dams on the artery can cause large impact on the ecological systems of the river while the branches will be good for the ecosystems. Thus taking ecosystem impact into consideration is a new concern for hydropower development since the utilization of hydropower is inevitable, according to Dr. Li.

Dr. Li Lifeng said it is doable technically if people do take it into consideration for example people can create an artificial peak in Gezouba area so that the current place for Chinese Sturgeon is not affected. But further research is needed.

‘No regrets' measures on climate change

Commenting on China's measures taken for climate change, Dr. Li Lifeng said the measures the Chinese government and society have taken are called ‘no regrets measures'. China has related climate change closely to development. China has seriously taken measures to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions of greenhouse gas as well as pollutants. To save energy, reduce emission or discharge of pollutants, recycle, reuse, reduce energy consumption, resources for production and develop renewable energy are all right for China as well as the world.
There are some scientists who do not believe that it was the CO2 that caused global warming and they predict that the climate might be cold for some time. However, saving energy and resources, developing renewable energy and protecting our environment by clean production are still the right thing to do.

No matter there is climate change or not, no matter people believe it or not, no matter how the international negotiation on climate change is done, all the above measures taken in China are of no regrets, said Dr. Li.

By Xuefei Chen, People's Daily Online, Stockholm.

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