Lake replenishment

By Huang Ge in Xiongan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/6 18:53:40

Hebei’s water pollution treatments at Baiyangdian key for growth of new economic area, local employment


The establishment of the Xiongan New Area in North China's Hebei Province has drawn the public's attention at nearby Baiyangdian, the largest freshwater lake in northern China. Local authorities have been devoted to treating the lake's pollution and restoring its ecological environment amid concerns that the new economic zone would pose threats to its wetlands. Meanwhile, local residents are feeling confused about where they should move to and what kinds of jobs they could take after factories they work for might be closed in the future due to the establishment of the new area and the anti-pollution efforts. But experts have assured that rising demand for labor services as many large companies continue moving to Xiongan can help to reduce unemployment.

Tourists in the Baiyangdian scenic spot Photo: Huang Ge/GT



 

Zhang Helai, a boatman in his 40s who lived at Baiyangdian, North China's Hebei Province, never expected large changes to take place in his hometown.

"Since the government announced in April what officials call 'the project of the millennium' - the Xiongan New Area, located near Baiyangdian - the region has captured nationwide attention and raised concerns that the new economic zone could imperil the wetlands," Zhang told the Global Times on Sunday.

Baiyangdian, which covers 366 square kilometers of water area, was once known as "the Kidney of North China."

But the lake has gradually been polluted by hundreds of small copper smelters, aluminum factories and clothes factories upstream, which have been dumping sewage into it for decades.

"Polluting factories have been shut down one after another in recent months," Zhang said, noting that local authorities have strengthened efforts to treat water pollution and restore the fragile ecosystem of Baiyangdian in an aim to help support the growth of the Xiongan New Area.

China announced plans on April 1 to establish the new economic zone, which is about 100 kilometers southwest of Beijing and spans Hebei's Xiongxian, Rongcheng and Anxin counties, all under the administration of Baoding city in Hebei.

Anti-pollution efforts

Over the past four decades, local authorities have endeavored to address water pollution in Baiyangdian.

When visiting the main body of Baiyangdian, which is located in Anxin, on Sunday, the Global Times found that there is an abundance of water and that water quality in the center of the lake is good.

Thick beds of reed rim the two sides of the waterway in the farther area of the lake. But the water in the farther area looks turbid, with many waterweeds as well as some plastic bags covering the surface of the lake.

Household waste and factory emissions are major polluting sources to the water area of Baiyangdian, especially the areas around nearby villages, causing eutrophication, Bai Ou, an industrial expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Another problem is that Baiyangdian has been suffering from deposits of waste, which rise to the water's surface when the wind blows due to the lake not being that deep.

Local authorities have been determined to fight water pollution within the region and greater efforts are to be made in the future, including the blocking of polluted water flow into Baiyangdian and strictly controlling emissions from companies and factories near the region, according to Bai.

"Several large sewage treatment facilities will be built in the Xiongan New Area," Bai said, adding that, "merely closing polluting factories cannot thoroughly solve pollution issues, so local authorities are expected to enhance supervision for companies to make sure their emissions reach certain environmental standards."

From the beginning of this year, the government of Baoding has been ramping up efforts to enhance Baiyangdian's ecological environment by cleaning up the waterway, plugging sewage drain outlets and banning illegal sand mining activities, the Baoding government said in a statement on its website on August 25.

The water quality upstream has so far seen improvements after a total of 168 polluting drain outlets were blocked and about 640,000 cubic meters of garbage-infested water were cleaned up, said the government.

'Where should we go?'

The Xiongan New Area is expected to expand to 2,000 square kilometers - nearly three times the size of New York City - in the future.

It will be a significant component of a massive "mega-region" that will be developed around Beijing, North China's Tianjin and Hebei in order to ease population pressures off the Chinese capital.

As Baiyangdian is the largest freshwater lake in northern China, water pollution treatment in the region will play a pivotal role in driving the future development of the Xiongan New Area, experts said.

"I am glad to see that the region where I was born and grew up is going to take a new look," a villager from Xiaozhang village in Anxin county surnamed Zhang told the Global Times. "But we also feel confused about our future lives and have no idea where local villagers will have to move to."

Zhang, who is in his 50s, runs three clothes factories with his brother-in-law in Anxin. Products like down jackets and quilts produced by his factories are sold across the country and are also exported to foreign markets like Russia, he said. 

"We were told by the local government in late October to move our factories to Anzhou, more than 10 kilometers west of Anxin," he said, noting that the move is expected to be completed within two years.

"There were rumors saying that we would get 5 million yuan ($765,545) in compensation. But we are not sure whether more than 200 employees would like to come with us when factories are closed down," he noted. But if the employees are unwilling to move, they will lose their jobs, Zhang said.

Local governments in China have extensive experience in resident relocation, and the Xiongan New Area is also able to properly handle related arrangements, said Yan Yuejin, a research director at Shanghai-based E-house China R&D.

Yan told the Global Times on Tuesday that the new economic area is expected to actively promote the transfer of farmlands for industrial and commercial use and provide urban household registration (hukou) and related welfare for some rural populations.

"More importantly, authorities are expected to offer more jobs to local residents," he said.

SOE involvement

At a vocational training and labor services recruitment meeting held in Xiongan on June 26, the government of Rongcheng received 62,000 pieces of information related to employment, Hebei Daily reported.

Centrally administrated State-owned enterprise (SOE) China Railway Construction Corp plans to hire 5,500 construction workers in the new economic zone and Beijing Zhongtie Fangshan Bridge Co has offered 30 labor services positions within the local government, the first labor service output project in Xiongan, the report noted.

About 70 centrally administered SOEs have so far set up branches in Rongcheng, and experts have said that the rising demand for labor from the companies will help ease unemployment pressures.

The Global Times found that more than 30 central SOEs, including China Communications Construction Co, have already established offices along Aowei Road in Rongcheng. But most of the branches are not yet in operation as they are still under construction.

Job advertisements can be found posted on the doors of some branches. "We set up our office in Rongcheng in May and plan to hire 30 employees here," a senior employee of Changjiang Securities, who prefers to remain anonymous, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The rising market demand after 65 large firms moved to Rongcheng has boosted the local rental markets, but authorities in the new area are now endeavoring to curtail rising rental prices for commercial properties through efforts such as investigating housing resources and cracking down on speculation.

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