Poyang Lake dam 'will make drought worse'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am


Environmental activists say a dam that has been proposed to tackle a severe water shortage in China's largest freshwater lake, which supplies drinking water to millions of people, will exacerbate droughts and deprive migratory birds of their habitat.

Jiangxi authorities said their proposal for a new dam to alleviate the prolonged dry spell had been submitted to the National Development and Reform Commission and had passed the environmental assessment process, the Guangzhou Daily reported yesterday.

Water levels in Poyang Lake dropped to a six-decade low of eight metres last month, with more than 90 per cent of the lake reduced to a plain of cracked mud, and 120,000 residents of Duchang county, downstream, running short of drinking water.

Fisherman Yuan Guohua told the newspaper that he was not able to catch fish in the lake between November and April every year because of the low water levels, and that fish could not spawn or find sufficient food. Official data suggests some 100,000 fishermen at Poyang Lake earned 60 per cent less last year because of the drought.

Water authorities said the ongoing drought, which began last summer, would become the norm in the future and that only a new dam could solve the water crisis.

But environmental activist Wang Yongchen said the dam would threaten Poyang Lake's eco-system and worsen the drought by cutting the link with its water source, the Yangtze River.

'Rivers and lakes depend on each other,' Wang said. 'The Three Gorges Dam has already kept water from the Yangtze and the lake, and the new Poyang Lake dam would further obstruct the natural connection.

'A new dam also means that mudflats at Poyang Lake during low water season, an important natural habitat for tens of thousands of migratory birds, will disappear.'

As one of the biggest wintering grounds in Asia for migratory birds, Poyang Lake hosts half a million birds each winter. The authorities drew up plans last month to air-drop shrimp and corn to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry birds around the drought-affected lake.

Dai Nianhua, a researcher from the Jiangxi Academy of Sciences, attributed the drought to the Three Gorges Dam, a lack of rainfall and uncontrolled sand mining during the past decade. He told Guangzhou Daily that the lake bed at Poyang Lake dropped some 15 metres in the past 13 years because of mining.

'However, it's difficult to enforce the law and launch a crackdown as Poyang Lake covers a huge area, encompassing three cities and 13 counties,' he said. Poyang county in Shangyao has been exposed for spending two billion yuan (HK$2.46 billion) to build 20 luxury villas on reclaimed land next to the lake. And in Duchang county, luxury apartments have been built on nearly 27 hectares of reclaimed land since 2009.