Author: CHUNG Yoon Ngan
Date: 08-27-12 20:22
Lake cleanup pays off big with tourist dividends
By Wu Wencong
August 28, 2012 - 8:30am http://www.chinadailyapac.com
Villagers use trained cormorants to fish at a wetland in Eryuan county near Erhai Lake, Yunnan province. (Wu Wencong / China Daily)
It was another sunny August morning by the side of Erhai Lake. Yang Chengzuo smiled from ear to ear as he stood in his yard, watching expat couples riding bikes on the wooden pathways that wind through the mixture of reeds, bulrushes and fleur-de-lis in the wetland park by the lake, thinking happily how every room in his 22-room family-run hostel was occupied.
Since the 36-year-old quit fishing and started the first hostel five years ago, 30 others have opened up in the lakeside village in Southwest China's Yunnan province.
According to data provided by Eryuan county, tourism revenue in 2011 increased 64 percent compared with the year before.
Yang and his fellow villagers owe the thriving tourism industry largely to efforts by the local government to tackle pollution in Erhai Lake, whose beauty it heavily relies on to attract travelers from around the world to the tourist hotspot.
From January to June, the water quality in the lake remained above the minimum standard for drinking water - not an easy feat for a lake adjacent to a county with almost 300,000 residents.
A decade ago, few would have thought that the lake, which was severely polluted by blue algae, would be called "one of the best protected lakes located near densely populated areas" by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Ling Jiang, deputy head of the department of pollution prevention and control from the ministry, told China Daily that one of the key factors in the success of cleaning up the lake was a shift in focus from just cleaning the lake to the environment around the lake.
A wetland park occupying more than 600 hectares has been built along the west side of the lake, where most of the population lives. All kinds of domestic sewage used to be dumped directly into the water.
Since all of the polluting industries have been cleared out of the county, the main pollutants for the lake are now nitrogen and phosphorus, which are widely used in agriculture and daily life.
Liu Bin, from the environmental protection bureau of the Dali Bai autonomous prefecture, said the water coming out of the treatment plant already meets emission standards. It then stays for about two days in the wetland park, where about half of the nitrogen and phosphorus can be further absorbed by the 60 kinds of plants in the park.
Located where there used to be fish ponds, farmland and farm houses, the wetland park isolates Erhai Lake and saves it from human interference, forming a protective barrier and creating beautiful scenery that helps boost local tourism.
Liu Xin, a tourist from Beijing, said she had been thinking of leaving the area until she became fascinated with the wetland park along Erhai Lake.
"I came for the ancient city here, which was supposed to be a 'must-see' in a typical itinerary, but I didn't like it very much," said the 28-year-old who traveled alone.
Finding herself a room in a hostel with a full view of the lake, Liu decided to stay longer because of the scenery.
Former fishman Yang Chengzuo said the water used to stink so badly that no one dared to get close in summer. Now the situation has completely changed.
"I earn much more now than either fishing here or working in factories in other places," Yang said.
Aside from setting a buffer zone for the lake, local government has also managed to collect and treat all the domestic garbage in the 16 towns and villages surrounding the lake so that the water quality can stay high even during flood season.
Almost 1,000 people are hired as cleaners and are responsible for collecting trash along the lake and within their villages.
Yang Jianhua, 51, is one of the cleaners. Earning more than 7,000 yuan ($1,100) a year by patrolling 1 km along the lake three times a day, looking for trash left by tourists and villagers, she sees the job as a perfect chance to earn some extra cash when she is too old for physical work in the fields.
Though quite costly, hiring the cleaners is still relatively easy for local government officials compared with trying to promote centralized waste collection and processing in villages, as they did about 10 years ago.
Yang Hong, head of Xinyi village committee in Yinqiao town close to Erhai Lake, said the villagers used to dump domestic waste at a nearby lot overgrown with weeds, which emitted unpleasant smells.
He said the village committee came up with a plan to collect and process the waste as early as 2003, but it was delayed because some villagers did not buy into the idea that one needs to pay money to dump waste.
When the situation reached the media in 2006, the committee became determined to carry out the plan.
The cost is about 10 yuan per person every year for a large truck to collect all the garbage in the village and take it to the town for further treatment every week.
At first, the villagers only needed to pay three yuan each, with the rest subsidized by the town government. The standard has since been raised to five yuan.
"Many villagers didn't want to pay a penny at first. There were even conflicts when we tried to persuade them," said Yang Hong. "But they all understand now, and will even voluntarily monitor the collector, calling the hotline to complain if he ever comes late."
He said it only took about three months before other nearby villages saw the effects and carried out similar projects.
Yang Yu, head of Eryuan county government, said residents in the county have sacrificed a lot economically.
He said the estimated loss from simply restricting the planting of garlic, which is more expensive in the market yet requires a lot of chemical fertilizers to grow, is about 150 million yuan a year.
The loss of many industrial projects may be even bigger.
"Maintaining the ecological environment is also very expensive."
He said the government invested 30 million yuan for ecological construction in 2010, and is under great pressure to get more money as the cost continues to rise year by year.
"The idea that protecting Erhai Lake always comes first when it collides with economic growth will never change, as we see it as a responsibility," said Yang Yu. "But we do hope that there could be a system for compensation in the long run."