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Vision turning lucid waters into reality

By LI HONGYANG in Dali, Yunnan, and LI YINGQING in Kunming | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-14 07:06
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Fuxian Lake, China's second-deepest freshwater lake, in Yuxi, Yunnan province, is well known for its lucid waters. [Photo by Lu Wen/For China Daily]

Environmental improvements at lakes demonstrate green path of development

The nine biggest lakes in Yunnan province sit like two strings of pearls on the red earth plateau of Southwest China.

The lakes, each with an area of more than 30 square kilometers, have a vital role to play in several respects, including preventing floods, providing drinking water and irrigation for farming, and attracting tourists.

However, in the 1980s, economic development started to pollute the lakes. That prompted local governments to switch from focusing on development at all costs to treatment at all costs.

Erhai Lake, the second-largest of the lakes and a popular scenic spot, has made progress in treating pollution and has become a role model for the others.

The lake remains a popular destination for city dwellers looking for a taste of the pastoral life. But while the surge in visitors and settlers brought prosperity to the Dali Bai autonomous prefecture, which sits on its shores, the lake gradually lost its luster.

The large numbers of tourists and migrants who came to Erhai led to increased demand in many sectors, but the farms, property developments and hotels that catered to their needs discharged pollutants into the lake.

For the local government, cleaning up the water meant curtailing or suspending those industries and forgoing lucrative sources of tax revenue.

President Xi Jinping has always attached great importance to the protection and improvement of the country's water system, as well as the balance between economic development and environmental protection.

In 2015, during an inspection tour of Yunnan, Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, visited Erhai and called on residents and the local government to protect it.

During his tour, Xi had a photo taken with local officials beside the lake and said he hoped its water quality would be improved when he made his next visit.

In 2017, Yunnan announced a series of measures, including bans on hotels and crops that used too much fertilizer, to protect Erhai from agricultural-and tourist-related runoff.

The policy led to a sudden deceleration of the fast-growing economy around the lake and caught many people unprepared.

But the improvement in the water quality two years later showed the people of Dali a greener path to development and their concerns eased.

Zhang Furong, a former innkeeper in Dali, was told in 2018 that his 1,300-square-meter hotel would have to be demolished because it was located within 100 meters of the lake's shore, in an area reserved for a protection zone.

The 45-year-old spent about 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) to build the hotel in 2014 and he received 6 million yuan in compensation from the government when it was demolished.

"At that time, we innkeepers didn't understand it and refused to sign the contracts agreeing to demolition," he said. "We were worried about our future. I was the first to accept it because I knew the government would protect Erhai Lake and there was no need to oppose it."

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