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Chinese environmental groups plan to close a key lake on the Yangtze River

From David Stanway

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese conservationists have planned a plan to miss a key spillway over the Yangtze River, Lake Poyang, fearing a hammer blow to the already fragile ecosystem, a migratory bird rest area and home to the endangered Yangtze River guinea pig. .

The discontent comes after the Jiangxi government earlier this month revived a project aimed at regulating water flows in Lake Poyang, China’s largest freshwater lake, which is increasingly prone to drought in the winter.

A Shanghai-based non-governmental environmental group called Free Birds said in an open letter to the Jiangxi government last week that approving the project would be “extremely irresponsible.”


She accused Jiangxi of running the project without proper consultation, and said she opposed a plan led by President Xi Jinping to better protect Yangtze’s environment, which supplies water to 40 percent of China’s population.

According to the revised plans of the Jiangxi government, a sluice gate will be built, stretching 3 kilometers between the lake and the Yangtze River, aimed at gaining control over water levels and easing the land.

The hydroelectric plant, first proposed about a decade ago, has been abandoned, but critics say the sluice will still sever the natural connection between Poyang and Yangtze.

The Free Birds Group said the Jiangxi government should address the real reasons for the decline in Poyang’s water level, including sand extraction and water retention from giant reservoirs such as the Three Gorges.

The Jiangxi Provincial Government did not immediately respond by fax, asking for comment.

Poyang, once described by President Xi as a vital “kidney” filtering China’s water supply, has long served as an outlet for floods of the volatile Yangtze, and its waters traditionally flow back into the river in winter.

But winter droughts have worsened in recent years, with Poyang almost disappearing, depriving farmers of irrigation and further shrinking the habitats of migratory birds and the Yangtze River guinea pig.

Speaking at a seminar on Saturday, Wang Hao, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, backed the project, saying the lake’s conditions – caused in part by upstream hydropower – would not be easily reversed, but the project could at least improve local agriculture.

He also said that the project includes specific features aimed at minimizing habitat destruction, adding that “the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages”.

But fellow academics said the long-term challenges facing Lake Poyang were too complex to be tackled with a single project, and further disruption of watercourses could make matters worse.

The decline in water levels in Lake Poyang is caused by many reasons, but generally speaking, it is mainly the impact of engineering, including the Three Gorges Dam, said Lu Shanlong, a researcher with the U.S. Space Information Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. sciences. Institute.

“The best way to solve it should be to optimize the way it’s designed right now, not add even more engineering,” he said.

(Report by David Stanway; Edited by Kenneth Maxwell)

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