October 23, 1993: Personal journey through a polluted portion of a reservoir on the Yangtze River. The following is a vivid description of pollution problems in the Gezhouba Reservoir which is located in Hubei province in the central part of China. “On October 23, 1993, I visited the renowned port of Yemingzhu, and to my great surprise I saw a river full of sewage, with garbage scattered everywhere. The surface of the water was covered with oil and drifting lotus plants. Moreover, the smell and color of the water were simply unbearable.
According to an official from the Environmental Protection Bureau (Huanbaoju) of Yichang, the pollution in the Gezhouba Reservoir stems mainly from the following sources: waste, including oil, released from ships lined up to pass through the dam’s locks; seepage from phosphorous (/in) deposits extracted from a local mine that have been piled up on the riverbanks awaiting shipment; sewage released into the reservoir from nearby residential areas and hospitals; and, finally, industrial wastewater.
A major polluter, the Number 403 factory, which produces ship engines, releases waste oil into the reservoir via a network of small brooks. When the accumulation of oil on the surface of the reservoir is particularly heavy, nearby farmers skim off a few jars, pour it into their tractors, and drive off. Fires also frequently break out on the reservoir when matches are carelessly thrown into the water.
As I was completing this study in November 1993, the water quality at Yemingzhu had deteriorated to Class IV, which is unsuitable for drinking. Nevertheless, 50,000 tons of drinking water is drawn daily into a local waterworks from the reservoir. Moreover, nitrate levels in the water have recently increased by 20 percent annually.”
Commentary: If I didn’t know any better, I would suspect that the description above referred to the Cuyahoga River in mid-twentieth century Ohio, which was also badly polluted with sewage and had a tendency to catch fire.
Reference: Qing, Dai. The River Dragon Has Come!: The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China’s Yangtze River and Its People. New York:M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 1998, p. 164-5.