Health check paints bleak future for Yangtze

Fertiliser run-off from countless farms and gardens is choking the lower reaches of China's biggest river and the authorities appear powerless to stop it.

Compiled by dozens of experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yangtze Forum Secretariat and WWF the 270 page Yangtze Conservation and Development Report looks at a number of environmental threats facing the river and suggests pollution has taken its ecology past tipping point and caused irreversible damage.

Pollution from riverside industry, sewers and shipping poses a serious threat in its own right, with the Three Gorges Dam area alone soaking up some 500 million tons of industrial wastewater a year and a further 2 million each from domestic sources ships.

But the biggest ecological problem is the constant flow of nitrates and phosphates which give rise to the choking algal blooms which, according to a senior environmental official, are making the river water look like soy sauce.

Weng Lida, of the Yangtze River Water Resources Protection Bureau under the Ministry of Water Resources, is reported by state owned China Daily as saying that in the Three Gorges Dam area pollution from fertilisers is a serious threat but almost impossible to address as trying to trace the source is a losing battle.

Industrial pollutants from a small number of factories are easy to tackle, he said, as you could make the owners of the plants move their operation to a less sensitive area.

“But nitrogen and phosphorus are used by millions of people living there, hence, it is difficult to ask them to stop using substances containing the pollutants,” he said.

“Such pollution from non-point sources is very hard to control.”

According to the report abut 10% of the 6,200km-long river is in a “critical condition” while almost 30% of major tributaries are seriously polluted.

Sam Bond

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