Tag Archives: Yuxi

Yuxi begins experiment as one of China’s ‘Sponge Cities’

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The city of Yuxi in central Yunnan province. Image: Sina

The city of Yuxi (玉溪) in central Yunnan is one of several municipalities across China to implement a green infrastructure pilot program meant to alleviate urban flooding while also curbing future water shortages. The so-called “Sponge Cities” (海绵城市) initiative is a three-year undertaking studying how urban areas can most effectively be redesigned and retrofitted to capture and effectively reuse rainwater.

Yuxi was chosen in 2015 alongside much larger cities including Chongqing, Xiamen and Tianjin. A multidisciplinary panel formed by China’s ministries of Finance, Housing and Water Resources carried out the the selection process. Committee members stressed the need for variety in their choices of participating cities, choosing Yuxi because it features a unique set of circumstances. The prefectural level city of 2.4 million sits at a relatively high elevation — 1,600 meters above sea level — and over the past several years has built a series of urban reservoirs meant to stave off drought.

By merit of its selection, Yuxi stands to receive an estimated 1.2 billion yuan (US$180 million) inSponge City funding over the next three years. The money will be put toward the construction of what the Chinese press is fond of calling “a more ecological civilization”.

Such strategies acknowledge the need to make municipal areas far more adaptive in the face of climate change. In the words of Yu Kongjian, dean of Peking University’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, “The rate of flooding is a national scandal. We have poured more than enough concrete. It’s time to invest in a new type of green infrastructure.” What that means specifically covers a huge range of endeavors.

In Yuxi and other pilot program cities, updating rainwater collection systems, and in some cases rebuilding them entirely, will play an enormous and costly role. Much of the water captured during rainstorms will then be funneled toward newly built or existing parks and wetlands. These areas are planned to serve the dual purpose of providing residents with more green space options during dry seasons, while serving as collection points during the summer monsoon months. The parks and wetlands will feature plants that can withstand sporadic flooding, as well as the ability to help filter impurities out of rainwater runoff.

At their most ideal, Sponge Cities can be thought of as a closed system, capturing nearly all rainwater and utilizing it in some manner. In certain instances — such as with the construction of permeable roads and sidewalks — this may simply include mild filtering before runoff soaks into the ground and replenish groundwater supplies. However, the collected water can also be channeled to underground cisterns, used to irrigate rooftop and vertical green spaces, or supplement nearby agriculture areas.

Over the next four years, according to Yuxi mayor Rao Nanhu, urban planners expect to equip 30 percent of the city with drainage upgrades and gray water systems, as well as build new and adaptable green spaces. This percentage is expected to grow to 80 percent by the end of 2030. In 2015, when the Sponge City initiative began to gain national momentum, Qiu Baoxing, former vice-minister of housing and urban-rural development told The GuardianA sponge city follows the philosophy of innovation — that a city can solve [its own] water problems instead of creating them. In the long run, sponge cities will reduce carbon emissions and help fight climate change.

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Filed under China, SLIDER, Sustainability and Resource Management, water, Yunnan Province

Myanmar-China Natural Gas Pipeline Complete, But Complications Remain

Last Monday, Chinese press outlets announced the long-awaited opening of the Myanmar-China Natural Gas Pipeline. The project, which has been in construction for almost four years, is part of a larger plan to import both natural gas and oil from the Bay of Bengal, through Myanmar and into China. The twin natural gas and oil pipelines are a project of great national importance as it is expected that the output from these pipelines will ease China’s growing energy needs. It is little wonder then that the opening of the natural gas pipeline was met with such fanfare.

On the day of its opening, July 29, the announcement was the top story on China Central Television’s evening news and stories ran in national and local newspapers celebrating the pipeline’s completion. The opening ceremony itself was supposedly an affair of great jubilation as well. Xinhua News reported, “”When torches flamed in the sky of Namkham Measuring Station of the Myanmar-China Gas Pipeline, a storm of applause and cheers broke out…”

Celebratory voices were not the only ones to be heard in the days surrounding the pipeline’s completion. This editorial in the English version of the People’s Daily argued that “Irresponsible remarks on the Myanmar-China oil and gas Pipeline should stop as the scientifically feasible project has benefited multiple parties.” According to the editorial, Western criticism of the pipeline stems from a “shady mentality”. These critics are “unwilling to see an intimate relationship between Myanmar and China” and are uncomfortable with the thought of China being energy secure. Continue reading

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Why Can’t We Protect China’s Cleanest Freshwater Lake?

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Fuxian Lake, located in Yunnan Province’s Yuxi municipality sixty kilometers southeast of Kunming, sits at the headwaters of the Pearl River, China’s third longest river. It is the largest alpine freshwater lake in China, and its water storage capacity accounts for nearly 10% of all freshwater lakes in China.  Fuxian is twelve times larger than the water volume of its western neighbor, Kunming’s Dianchi Lake. Most importantly, the lake’s water quality is rated at Class I meaning it is directly drinkable.

In order to protect Fuxian Lake’s water quality and local ecosystem, the Yunnan Provincial Government issued a set of “Protection Regulations on Fuxian Lake of Yunnan Province” on September 1, 2007. It declares the entire lake, its watershed, and adjacent lakeside area extending 100m range from the shore are within the first protection zone, a red line under strict protection and monitoring. In accordance with the local regulations, washing clothes and bathing in the lake are strictly prohibited. Even motor-driven boats have been replaced with manpower-driven pedal ones. Furthermore, conditions on the use of cultivated land, shoals and vegetation around the lake are also defined by the regulations.

Also, clearly banned are “the unauthorized expansion or alteration or creation of new buildings or structures; unauthorized pumping of water from the lake or violation of water permit provisions for pumping water; other destructive practices to the ecological system and pollution behavior.”

Since 2005, August 26th of every year has been designated by Yuxi City as the Fuxian Lake Protection Action Day. All of these measures seem to favor the lake’s protection and its aquatic ecosystem. But in practice, is it really true?

A June 7 China Central Television (CCTV) report disclosed the unregulated construction of eleven real estate projects around the lake that threaten to destroy its aquatic ecosystem and degrade its water quality.  The numerous luxury lake-view villas, five stars hotels such as Hilton Hotel, and golf courses were built or under construction within Fuxian Lake protection area. For sales promotion, these ‘Big Mac’ projects were crowned as resorts, sports parks, among other flashy names.

For example, Longhu Lake Park project is located in Mackerel Bay with an area of 147 hm2 size and an investment footprint of USD 730 million. A realtor for the project boasted that its size is as big as one-fifth of Kunming metropolitan area. To my surprise, this project even passed its environmental impact assessment. The EIA report said “impact of the project construction on the environment is slight and controllable. The project meets the regulations and the environmental management standards of construction project of the national construction projects in listed in Yunnan Province’s environmental regulations. The project location is feasible.”

A further embarrassing fact is that some projects broke ground before their EIAs were processed. The Kowloon Bay, Kowloon Sheng Jing Project is located in the upper reaches of lake’s western banks.  In its promotional materials, the developer dared to say “the project site offers the nearest resort-style apartments to Fuxian Lake so far. It is only 50m away from the shoreline.” Most of these European style villas come with a lake view. The project includes luxury hotels, lake view hotel apartments and villas.

In September 2009, Yuxi Municipal Party Committee and Government issued “A Decision for Accelerating Tourism and Cultural Industries Development.” Citing “from 2010 onwards, the municipal government will invest 30 million RMB to promote tourism development…. Each subordinate district and county should set up special budget for tourism development.” The cited purpose of the decision is to “encourage the introduction of high-star hotel projects” and “local governments will be awarded with 10 million RMB for the successful introduction of well-known international brand five-star hotel projects exceeding investment levels 300 million RMB after the project’s completion.”

In this decision, the projects mentioned above were highlighted one by one. The Yuxi municipal government vowed to “create conditions to facilitate the projects’ construction as soon as possible”.

Around Fuxian Lake, many developers promote new commercial buildings and hotels connecting project names to the beauty and quality of the lake. For instance, “Holy Water Lake Phase II” advocated that they built a “wetland park” in Fuxian Lake, exclusively open to the residence owners and the hotel guests.

Locals from surrounding villages told a CCTV reporter that the residential developments were discharging excessive levels of black, smelly sewage directly into the lake! The local villagers angrily said that protecting the Fuxian Lake was merely spoken of on the lips of leaders and the regulations were useless.

The CCTV report further pointed out that although the country already banned golf course construction in national level water resource protection zones, golf courses were being constructed around the lake. It also mentioned that most real estate projects were initiated via oral permission from the local governmental leaders without environmental impact assessment.

Naturally one cannot help asking the following questions regarding the protection of Fuxian Lake:

  • Which is really more powerful and effective, the political agendas of leaders OR the rule of law when a collision between environmental conservation and economic development occurs?
  • Why do we often repeat these inane practices, namely sacrificing environmental quality for economic development? Do these mistakes really pay off?
  • Why do not we try best to maintain our blue skies, clean water and a hygienic environment for ourselves and also for our next generations? Do we fear our next generations will rebuke us if we are too selfish?
  • Is it fair to dirty the environment dirty leave the bill for our next generations?
  • Despite the CCTV report which by the nature of its broadcast, passed muster of national censors and by the eyes of national leaders, why do local environmental protection agencies continue to maintain silence about the Fuxian Lake case?

After the CCTV report, Yuxi government issued a moratorium on the processing of new real estate development projects around Fuxian lake.

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