|Comments on the First Public Notice for the Environmental Impact Assessment on the Poyang Lake Water Conservancy Project in Jiangxi Province
|Recently, the First Public Notice for the Environmental Impact Assessment on the Poyang Lake Water Conservancy Project in Jiangxi Province was posted on official websites at Jiangxi Water Bureau and Jiangxi Environmental Protection Bureau, seeking comments from the public. The International Crane Foundation (ICF) praises the Jiangxi Government for its open attitude regarding the project, and in the meantime has serious concerns about the project.
The healthy wetland ecosystem of Poyang Lake plays a critical role in maintaining stability of China and global ecosystems. Given its complex and irreplaceable functions and our insufficient understanding, we believe that proceeding with the Poyang Lake Water Conservancy Project will lead to high risk to Poyang Lake, with irreversible changes. In order to protect the unique wetland ecosystem and maintain regional sustainable social and economic development, planners should continue to investigate other less expensive and less risky alternatives.
Poyang, the largest freshwater lake in China, has extraordinary significance for the people of Jiangxi, of the entire mid and lower Yangtze River basin, and of China as a whole, including benefits related to water supply, flood control, water quality, and rich harvests of fish and other resources. Poyang Lake’s ecological and biodiversity values have received global concern and recognition, including designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The International Crane Foundation (ICF) has been involved since the 1980s with research and conservation of Poyang Lake.
Poyang is a key migratory stopover and wintering site for waterbirds across East Asia including vast regions of Russia and Mongolia. 400,000 waterbirds migrate to Poyang Lake each winter including 98% of the world’s Critically Endangered Siberian Cranes, over 90% of the Endangered Oriental Storks, five species of geese including the Vulnerable and declining Swan and Lesser White-fronted Geese, and huge numbers of waders. The diverse conditions across the Poyang Lake Basin allow each species to find its habitat and food. Yet these species endure severe threat and decline. Numbers of the Vulnerable White-naped Crane, for which Poyang is the primary wintering site in China, have dropped to half what they were 15 years ago. Wetland destruction and degradation across Asia have made Poyang Lake more important than ever before.
The announcement for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Poyang Lake Water Conservancy Project provides little information on the impact analysis or the proposed design for the project. An EIA should only proceed following a broad analysis and consensus regarding the threats to Poyang Lake and an open consideration of alternative solutions. The recent announcement emphasizes that the project’s objective is to slow the decline in water levels in autumn. ICF has conducted field investigations annually since 1999. The two years when conditions were the worst for cranes and other waterbirds occurred during or shortly after severe floods, for which the Poyang Lake Water Conservancy Project affords no remedy.
Prior to an EIA, a project evaluation must be conducted based on clear understanding of the threats to the lake. Recent studies indicate that a major cause for earlier autumn water outflows has been the intensive sand dredging occurring near the lake’s outlet. Satellite imagery reveals that the outlet has grown wider and deeper. Sand dredging presents a very different challenge than do changes to the flow of the Yangtze River, and might require different solutions -- potentially much less expensive and risky to the lake ecology than the currently proposed project.
One dominant feature of Poyang Lake is the remarkable fluctuation in its water levels within and among years, which underlies its many ecological values and ecosystem services. This variability drives the ecology and productivity of the system. It is our understanding that operational plans for the water control structure include maintaining predetermined water levels during the autumn, winter and early spring periods. Lessons from many studies around the world, however, indicate that wetlands thrive on the dynamics of drought, flood, and changing water patterns. Understanding of Poyang Lake ecology and ecosystem function, vital to millions of people as well as waterbirds, is still insufficient.
To protect Poyang Lake, the International Crane Foundation is ready to assist with further study and planning.