Caixin
Nov 30, 2016 06:31 PM
ENVIRONMENT

Conservationists Say More Studies Needed Before Damming Poyang Lake

Sand boats operate in Poyang Lake in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province on April 28. Excessive sand mining is believed to have caused damage to the eco-system. Photo: Visual China
Sand boats operate in Poyang Lake in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province on April 28. Excessive sand mining is believed to have caused damage to the eco-system. Photo: Visual China

(Beijing) — Conservation groups and academics said a proposed dam on China's largest freshwater lake would do little to resolve the water crisis in the area caused by illicit sand mining and the building of reservoirs further upstream.

They also warned that the plan for Poyang Lake, in the eastern province of Jiangxi, would affect the largest natural habitat of the endangered Yangtze River dolphin. The groups and academics urged authorities to carry out more studies to assess the affect the dam would have on one of the world's largest sanctuaries for migratory birds in winter.

Last week, the provincial Environmental Protection Department published a preliminary report on the environmental impact of the project, which is open for public comment until Friday.

The provincial government said the 13-billion-yuan ($1.9 billion) project aims to slow the decline in the lake's water levels that has resulted in the shrinking of adjoining wetlands and threatened the livelihood of thousands of local fishermen and farmers. The dam will also create a reservoir that would help minimize water shortages during droughts that become more frequent, officials said.

But excessive sand mining in waterways linking the lake to the Yangtze River was the main cause behind dwindling water levels, and a new dam will do little to solve this problem, said Zhang Yunbo from an environmental NGO, the Let Migratory Bird Fly Fund.

Companies that have permits to mine sand are taking away much more than allowed. That has drained water from the lake into the Yangtze River at a much faster rate than it could naturally replenish itself, according to a study published on a Chinese language journal Acta Geographica Sinica, affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhang said

Reservoirs and hydropower plants built further upstream on the Yangtze River have also led to the drop in water levels at Poyang Lake, said Zhou Jianjun, a professor at Tsinghua University's Department of Hydraulic and Hydropower Engineering. And authorities in Jiangxi can't solve the problem on their own, he said.

The World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), an international conservation group, warned of a potentially irreversible decline in water quality and drop in diversity among fish species at Poyang Lake if the dam is built.

Local authorities haven't announced when construction would begin. More studies are needed before any work begins, the WWF said.

The group also said in a statement issued on Wednesday that the dam would damage the habitats of the endangered Yangtze River dolphins and migratory birds.

The lake is the largest sanctuary for Yangtze River dolphins. Academics estimate it is home to about 450 dolphins, or up to half of the population of the endemic mammal.

Jiangxi authorities said the dam was designed with pathways for the dolphins to migrate freely, but professor Wang Yamin, at Shandong University's School of Marine Biology, said the proposed design could trap dolphins on both sides of the dam.

He said similar problems were seen in dams built using a similar design in rivers in North America that failed to help fish such as sturgeons migrate through man-made channels, Wang said.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com); editor Poornima Weerasekara (poornima@caixin.com)

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