Billions of yuan have been spent on attempts to clean up Dianchi Lake, mostly to no avail. Rehabilitation efforts have ranged from modest to bizarre. A new strategy unveiled earlier this week is one that perhaps shockingly has not been tried before: completely eliminating the flow of Kunming's untreated sewage into the lake.
Thirteen treatment plants capable of decontaminating both raw sewage and factory waste water are scheduled to be completed in the next 20 months. Currently, ten facilities are under construction, many at the mouths of the most polluted rivers feeding the lake.
The Yunnan government, as part of its Twelfth Five-Year Plan, has allocated 14.1 billion yuan (US$2.27 billion) for the project in 2013 and expects to spend an additional 20 billion yuan (US$3.22 billion) next year to get the treatment facilities on line.
One such treatment plant will be located where the Niulan River (牛栏江) empties into the lake on its eastern shore. When finished the biological filtration center will by itself clean an estimated 600 million cubic meters of water annually. The processing capacities of similar facilities, including one along Kunming's Panlong River (盘龙江), have yet to be released.
Dianchi Lake is China's eighth largest freshwater body, and perhaps one of its most polluted. It is fed by 35 rivers that carry untreated agricultural and factory runoff water, as well as sewage, into the lake.
For the past six years Dianchi has been covered with a slimy coating of green algae that is often accompanied by a noxious smell. The seemingly permanent algae bloom has been attributed to Kunming and other, smaller cities discharging their untreated sewage into the lake for decades.
Government officials have estimated cleanup costs associated with the lake could exceed 100 billion yuan (US$16 billion) by 2020. In 2009, Kunming mayor Zhang Zulin (张祖林) called lake rehabilitation efforts "One of the most difficult problems [facing] the country."
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