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Half Empty ep.6: Run-off, aquaculture damaging Taihu Lake


05-20-2015 21:15 BJT

Full coverage: Special Series: Half Empty

A recent report by the Chinese government highlighted some progress in reducing industrial pollution. But it said pollution from agriculture is getting worse, affecting both water and soil.  

Han Bin

Han Bin

For the latest in his special daily reports, CCTV reporter Han Bin travelled to China's third largest freshwater lake, Taihu, in East China, to look at some tough choices facing the local government in trying to balance economic growth and water quality.

For generations, Taihu Lake has provided a home and livelihood. Wang Xiaodong's family was one of the first to try aquaculture. Today, that’s still their major source of income.

“When I was a boy, Taihu Lake used to be so crystal clear that we could see small fish and shrimps. There were huge quantities. Now, there are fewer and fewer fish in the water.

“Our generation grew up drinking directly from Taihu. But after some 20 years of large-scale aquaculture in the area, water quality has fallen greatly. In some areas that lack supervision and control, water quality is quite bad, with vegetation overgrowth," said Wang Xiaodong, fisherman in Dongshan county, Suzhou city.

Aquaculture is a major source of pollution. Feed and excessive nutrients are the culprits. The government ordered most of the crab culture to shut down, and banned the use of chemical fertilizers in farming.

For Chinese, Taihu means the great delicacy, hairy crab. Wang Xiaodong’s crab farming is now less than a tenth of what it once was. And so is his income. His worst fear is that the trend will continue.

“I feel great pressure in life that I'd have to give up all of my crab culture. We should try our best to keep the water clean, so we can continue aquaculture in the future," Wang said.

“Taihu Lake used to be famous for its water quality. But fast agricultural and industrial development, as well as pollution growth, resulted in massive algae blooms in 2008. The government has spent hugely to treat the pollution. But the deteriorating situation has changed the way of life here," Han Bin said.

Taihu Lake

Taihu Lake

Taihu Lake

Taihu Lake

Taihu Lake

Taihu Lake

A healthy ecosystem will support Taihu's biodiversity. This vegetable, chun cai, is just one example. Its English name is “Water Shield”.

Chun cai is used in traditional Chinese medicine, and the soup is a local specialty. Farmer Ye Hongxing has been growing it for some twenty years. His production base is only 40 kilometers from the algae zone. But while demand is growing, production is shrinking. Chun cai symbolizes the hard work to clean up the lake. It now only grows in restricted areas.

“Chun cai largely depends on water quality. Pollution will kill the vegetable. The right temperature and water quality creates good mucilage on it. That’s one of the reasons there is less and less high quality chun cai in Taihu," said Ye Hongxing, farmer in Dongshan county, Suzhou city.

Ye Hongxing’s worry is pollution without governance. He spends most of his time supervising water quality at his base. He dreams of creating a big brand. And like chun cai, that depends on the water.

Once, it was the most polluted lake in China. Today, Taihu continues to be the source of water for the 45 million people living around it.

For Wang Xiaodong, it's the home he can't give up. For Ye Hongxing, it's a business to grow.

The government has promised to restore the lake to its original condition. It acknowledges without controls, Taihu's bounty will be only a memory.

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