China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Cleaning up Songhua River is a priority

By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-10 06:07

HARBIN: Top Chinese environmental protection officials have listed water pollution control in the Songhua River's drainage area as one of the key water pollution control and prevention projects in the country. It is soliciting suggestions for a five-year plan concerning the control of the river's pollution from 2006 to 2010.

This is the first time the Songhua River's pollution has been raised as a key project, in the same category as the pollution control of China's "three rivers and three lakes," which includes the Huaihe River, the Haihe River, the Liaohe River, the Dianchi Lake, the Chaohu Lake and the Taihu Lake. These water systems are some of China's most heavily polluted.

About 100 tons of dangerous chemicals equivalent to 10 tanker-truck loads was spewed into the Songhua River, which supplies water to Harbin, the nation's environment watchdog disclosed yesterday.
A stretch of potentially lethal polluted river water headed towards one of China's biggest cities on Thursday after an explosion at a petrochemical plant, November 24 2005. [newsphoto]

Over the weekend, Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA), vowed that the goal of the project is "to let all people drink clean water," Xinhua News Agency reports.

A draft of a control plan for the Songhua River's drainage area is currently being worked on by experts and will be announced to the public once it receives approval from the State Council, according to Li Jieshi, an official from the Heilongjiang Environment Protection Bureau.

The draft says that protection priority will be given to the water sources of large and medium sized cities along the Songhua River, along with the ultimate ecological goal of a healthy standard of clean water in each river section.

A primary goal in the draft is to ensure that more than 90 per cent of the population living within the drainage area of the Songhua River will have clean drinking water by 2010.

The draft also put forward the demand to improve urban sewage systems in each city with a population over 200,000, in the next five years.

It hopes that by 2010 at least 60 per cent of urban waste water and 95 per cent of industrial waste water will be processed in order to reach a certain environmental standard before discharge.

The Songhua River in Northeast China is the largest tributary of the Heilong River (also known as the Amur River in Russia), flowing 1,927 kilometres from the Changbai Mountains through the Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces. The river drains 551,000 square kilometres of land with a population of more than 60 million.

Four cities with populations of over 1 million are located in the drainage area Harbin, Changchun, Jilin and Qiqihar.

A blast at a chemical plant in November last year in Jilin City, Jilin Province, spilled some 100 tons of toxic chemicals (mainly benzene and nitrobenzene) into the Songhua River, forming a toxic slick, which at its peak extended 80 kilometres.

The toxic slick plagued millions of residents living along the downstream sections of the river. Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province with an urban population of nearly 4 million, was forced to cut off it's water supply for four days, resulting in huge economic losses.

"I think it is this pollution catastrophe that has prompted the country to make up its mind to thoroughly deal with pollution in the Songhua River," said Li Xinglong, a chief engineer from the Heilongjiang Environment Protection Science Research Institute, who took part in the draft's suggestion-soliciting meeting in Harbin last Sunday.

The draft stated that a preliminary budget used for the pollution control of the Songhua River will come to 26.6 billion yuan (US$ 3.28 billion), the Beijing Youth Daily reported last Sunday.

Officials from the SEPA did not confirm the sum and said it needs a "further check."

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