A river in Yunnan's northeast is receiving national media attention due to its rampant pollution. Local officials have taken the uncommon step of publicly apologizing on television for their failure to prevent pollution.
The Xiaojiang (小江) — or Little River — flows north through Dongchuan for 40 kilometers before emptying into the Yangtze River. Pollution from nearby industry has become so severe that the river now permanently runs a grayish white. Villagers in the area who use water from the Xiaojiang for crop irrigation have taken to calling it the 'milk river' (牛奶河).
The valley through which the river flows has at least 45 "mineral processing facilities", many of which dispose of their untreated wastewater by dumping it directly into the Xiaojiang. In response to mounting pressure from outraged citizens, Dongchuan District Vice Mayor Lin Hua (林华) held a press conference April 11 to address concerns of environmental degradation in the area.
Lin announced that 28 factories have been shuttered pending an investigation. He also publicly apologized for the Dongchuan government's inability to curtail wastewater dumping and prevent what he characterized as "adverse public effects".
A local farmer, interviewed by television reporters, explained the river water had become almost useless. "It's too dirty. It's becoming more toxic and the contamination is getting worse. No one dares use it," he said.
Reporters from 20 national outlets covered the news conference and the story was broadcast on several nightly news programs around the country. GoKunming cycled through this area in January 2013 and can verify the condition of river.
Tailing dumps from mining operations in the mountains were visible from a distance of more than a kilometer. When we were there the river was running very low due to the dry season. The water was chalk white and looked almost chunky. We were amazed to see farmers diligently tilling plots of land on the river's floodplain eventhough the rocks and dirt were clearly stained an unnatural gray by mining and quarry runoff.
In his comments, Lin said a 24-hour hotline had been established for people to report dumping. All factories in the area will also be checked against existing environmental regulations and any water expelled from their operations will be tested by the Dongchuan Environmental Protection Agency.