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2022-05-20 13:00:56

China’s environmentalists are concerned that a controversial water diversion project in the eastern Jiangxi province could be approved, cutting off the country’s largest freshwater lake from the Yangtze River and affecting local ecology.

Several non-profit organizations — including Let Birds Fly and CrossBorder Environment Concern Association — are calling on people to voice their opinions on the Poyang Lake dam project to better manage its water levels during the dry season. Conservationists worry the construction of the 3,000-meter-long, 23.4-meter-high sluice gate could potentially damage the habitat of flora and fauna around the lake.

Chinese authorities usually release various draft policy documents to seek public opinion. Jiangxi officials had released the environmental assessment report of the Poyang Lake project for a 10-day solicitation period ending Friday.

Zhou Haixiang, an ecology professor at Shenyang Ligong University and a vocal critic of the project, told Sixth Tone that many animals could lose their habitats if the lake is turned into a “fish pond” because of the sluice wall. The lake and its surroundings are home to the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise and a winter habitat for many migratory birds including Siberian cranes.

“We used to have dozens of waters like Poyang Lake in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, but they are all gone,” he said. “Now Poyang Lake and Dongting Lake are the last free-flowing rivers. We need to protect the ecosystem, which is one of the most important in East Asia.”

The Poyang Lake project dates back nearly two decades and has been pushed back several times over the years due to continuing concerns about its environmental impact but it resurfaced in 2016.

The Jiangxi provincial government published a pre-approved location of the sluice wall last year to solicit public opinions. Authorities released an updated environmental impact assessment report last week for another round of public opinion but has again met opposition. 

According to the latest environmental assessment report, the dam is said to regulate droughts, protect biodiversity, and aid irrigation. Poyang Lake has seen worsening winter droughts in recent years, and experts have previously voiced concerns that sand mining and upstream dams are drying up the lake.

The report also acknowledged that the dam project would affect the Yangtze finless porpoises and migratory birds. But it maintained that there would be more benefits than negative impacts.

Zhou said that the 10-day public comment period for a 1,200-page document was “too short” for a conducive public discussion, according to an article published Thursday by Let Birds Fly.

Meanwhile, Let Birds Fly said they have found that some previous media reports on the project were already offline, including those from experts objecting to the dam project.

“We think its predictions on the project’s ecological impact are ducking the hard question,” the organization told Sixth Tone in a statement, referring to the updated environmental assessment document. “It should not be approved before further analysis on the necessity, ecological risks, and environmental measures of the project.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A bridge is seen during the dry season at Poyang Lake, Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, Nov. 24, 2021. VCG)