It sounded good on paper: improving the water quality of Erhai Lake. The method, however, proved to be contentious.
The water quality of five of the 18 creeks that flow from the Cangshan mountain range into the lake has been classified as grade 5 — the lowest possible water quality assessment grade in China. Work aimed at improving the water quality was halted, after local environmentalists protested. The 340 million yuan project to line five creeks that flow into the lake with cement horrified local environment groups. No explanation of the environmental rationale for lining the creeks with cement was provided and initial work — started in the dry season — was suspended for an indefinite time, after criticism on Chinese social media. Local authorities have promised to make a revised plan that is open to input from the public.
The protection of the lake has been high on the local government's agenda since 2003 — episodes of large-scale blue algae blooms combined with agricultural and industrial run-off had caused the water quality to drop dramatically around the turn of the millennium. In 2008 fishing was temporarily banned, to allow for ecological recovery of the lake. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping inspected the region in 2015 local officials have been motivated to step up the efforts to clean up the lake and in 2019 many tourism businesses on the lakeshore were demolished in an effort to protect the waterfront and the water quality from the effects of mass tourism. The Dali government has clear guidelines on the environmental protection and management of Erhai Lake and progress has been made, after the aforementioned problems with pollution surrounding the lake.
Environmentalists say that the key to making the water of Erhai Lake cleaner is to stop releasing polluted wastewater directly into it, rather than resorting to engineering solutions for rivers and destroying their ecological diversity and natural beauty in the process.
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