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Cablegate: A Bleak Spring for Lake Tai

VZCZCXRO4701
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHGH #0420/01 1870853
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 060853Z JUL 07
FM AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6005
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1236
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0740
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0760
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0762
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0878
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 0620
RUEAEPA/EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 6438

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SHANGHAI 000420

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR OES-I- ANN COVINGTON
EPA FOR INTERNATIONAL - NGUYEN AND MCASKILL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV PREL PHUM CH
SUBJECT: A BLEAK SPRING FOR LAKE TAI

REF: BEIJING 4127

(SBU) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for dissemination outside
USG channels.

1. (SBU) Summary: Since mid-May, Lake Tai, the third-largest
freshwater lake in China, has experienced a massive outbreak of
blue-green algae. In a series of recent meetings with
Congenoffs, government officials and academics in Jiangsu
Province discussed the enormous challenges confronting Lake Tai.
Both officials and academics agreed that it would take years,
if not decades, to see any significant improvement in Lake Tai
and the surrounding rivers. One official noted that in early
June there was also a blue-algae outbreak in neighboring Lake
Chao, China's fifth-largest freshwater lake. Jiangsu officials
also briefed Congenoffs on the case of detained environmental
activist Wu Lihong, who was currently awaiting a retrial on
extortion charges related to whistle blowing on factories that
pollute Lake Tai and its tributaries. One local official
reported that Wu was charged with extorting USD 6500 from local
businesses, and another claimed Wu personally tried to extort
money from him. End Summary.

---------------------------------
Lake Tai: "All Better Now"
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) Since mid-May, Lake Tai has been struggling against a
massive outbreak of blue-green algae. In a June 21 meeting,
Wuxi Foreign Affairs Office (FAO) Director Cai Dagang briefed
the Consul General and Econoff on the Lake Tai crisis. Cai said
the water in Lake Tai was now actually better than before the
outbreak. The water quality was currently at "level three"
versus the normal pre-outbreak "level four." However, during
the crisis, the water quality was "worse than level five." Wuxi
anticipated a second outbreak of blue-algae this summer but
thought it would strike in July and August. (Note: The meeting
was requested by the Wuxi FAO who had traveled to Shanghai to
meet with many of the Consulates one-on-one to discuss the Lake
Tai crisis.)

-------------------------------
How It Got To This Point
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) In a June 14 meeting with Econoffs, Jiangsu
Environmental Protection Department (EPD) Director for
International Cooperation Huang Yibin explained that in recent
years the algae outbreak occurred annually, but this year a
combination of factors led to a larger than expected outbreak:
lowest water levels in 50 years; excessive heat; and excessive
pollution as a result of chemical factory discharge,
agricultural waste and human waste. Huang felt that the crisis
was caused by "70 percent natural factors and 30 percent human
factors." According to Nanjing Environmental Science Institute
Vice Director Wang Hua, there were over 100 rivers that flow
into Lake Tai, many of which were tributaries linking the
Yangtze River and Lake Tai. The watershed district covered two
provinces, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and supported a population of
over 40 million people. Lake Tai was 2, 250 square kilometers
and was very shallow with an average depth of 1.8 meters, and it
has historically suffered from an extremely low rate of
waterflow. According to the Chinese newspaper, First Financial
Daily, there were more than 8,500 chemical factories in the
watershed district, most of which were small-scale. In April,
CCTV's program "Focus Interview," (Jiao Dian Fang Tan) caught
several chemical plants on camera in the act of discharging
pollutants into Lake Tai. CCTV then showed the footage to
government officials who did not respond. To date, the five
government officials who viewed the videos were the only
officials to have been removed from their positions - three in
the town of Zhoutie and two in Yixing city.

4. (SBU) Jiangsu EPD's Huang said the Jiangsu government began
to treat sewage discharged into Lake Tai, the Yangtze River and
the Huai River in 1996. However, according to SEPA the nitrogen
levels in the lake tripled between 1996 and 2006. Since 1996,
plants listed as "fifteen types of small plants" including
chemical, dying and painting, paper mill and plating factories

SHANGHAI 00000420 002 OF 003


have been closed. Beginning in January 2007 the Jiangsu
government stopped approving permits for new chemical factories
with less than USD 4 million initial investment.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Local Government's Response to the Outbreak
--------------------------------------------- ------

5. (SBU) In response to the recent outbreak, Wuxi drafted a
treatment plan that they call "6-6-9-9." The name refers to six
working mechanisms, six emergency response methods, nine water
clean-up projects and nine pollution treatment measures.
According to FAO Director Cai, the treatment plan would include
the major cities of the Lake Tai watershed district; Wuxi,
Suzhou and Changzhou. They have established two working groups
that were each led by a deputy provincial governor: Emergency
Response Group and Pollution Treatment & Prevention Group. Cai
noted that in a recent working group meeting Deputy Premier Zeng
Peiyan emphasized the importance of cooperation between Jiangsu
and Zhejiang provinces in managing Lake Tai.

6. (SBU) FAO Director Cai said that earlier this year
construction of a new water treatment facility was started. The
new facility was being built in two phases, the first, to be
completed in April 2008 will provide 400,000 tons of water per
day, and the second phase to be completed by December 2008 will
provide an additional 800,000 tons. The facility will use water
from Yangtze River and was projected to meet the daily needs of
the Wuxi residents. The entire plan has been accelerated as a
result of the current crisis in Lake Tai.

--------------------------------------------- ------------------
Consulate's DVC on Environmental Challenges - Serendipity?
--------------------------------------------- ------------------

7. (SBU) On May 17, just days before the Lake Tai story broke,
ConGen Shanghai hosted a Digital Video Conference (DVC) on
Environmental Challenges, planned months in advance, that was
well-attended by the Jiangsu EPD. The DVC featured U.S. EPA
Policy Coordination, and Communication Branch Great Lakes
National Program Office Chief Vicki Thomas who discussed the
clean-up of the Great Lakes beginning in the 1970's. During the
Q&A session, Jiangsu EPD Office of International Cooperation
Deputy Director Cao Zhihong drilled Thomas on how cities and
states found a way to work together to combat pollution in the
Great Lakes and how much money it cost. In the meeting with
Econoffs a month later, Cao revisited the topic saying that, in
comparison with the amount spent on cleaning up the Great Lakes,
China would not have the same financial resources necessary to
clean up its rivers and lakes.

--------------------------------------------- --
Lake Chao: Another Crisis on the Horizon?
--------------------------------------------- --

9. (SBU) The blue-green algae problem is not isolated to Lake
Tai. The fifth largest lake in China, Lake Chao, located in
Anhui province 15 miles from the city of Hefei , also
experienced a blue-green algae crisis this summer. According to
State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) Regional
Office Deputy Director Miao Xubo in a June 14 meeting, the
situation in Lake Chao was much worse than Lake Tai. However,
Lake Chao was located in the poorer, less densely-populated
Anhui province, so it has not garnered as much attention as Lake
Tai. Lake Chao supports a population of around five million
people.

------------------------------------------
Wu Lihong: Activist or Extortionist?
------------------------------------------

11. (SBU) In meetings with Jiangsu EPD officials and Jiangsu
Provincial Environmental Research Institute Vice-Director Wang
Hua on June 14, Congenoffs raised the issue of environmental
activist Wu Lihong who was arrested by local officials in
Yixing, Jiangsu on April 13. Jiangsu officials said that Wu
Lihong had been a pioneer in environmental activism, but that he
had recently turned to blackmail. Jiangsu EPD's Huang said that
Wu Lihong had threatened to blackmail him earlier this year.
Hong Kong press reports said that Wu had been planning to travel

SHANGHAI 00000420 003 OF 003


to Beijing on April 15 to raise environmental issues at the
national level. On April 13, 50-60 police surrounded his house
and detained Wu. Police also confiscated computer equipment,
cameras, albums and business cards.

12. (SBU) Since 1991, Wu had reported on the illegal activities
of more than 2000 factories on, or near, Lake Tai. Chemical
plants reportedly account for most of the local taxes received
in the area and some of the plant owners were representatives of
local Municipal Peoples Congress and Chinese People Political
Consultative Conference. Initial press reports indicated that
Wu was arrested for contact with foreign officials, but Wu was
ultimately charged with extortion. According to Wuxi FAO
Director Cai, Wu has been charged with extorting USD 6500 from
local businesses.

13. (SBU) According to Jiangsu EPD's Huang, Wu had reported
many environment pollution cases to Jiangsu EPD and that they
had rewarded him with awards and financial incentives
(approximately USD 125). After receiving Jiangsu EPD financial
incentives, when Wu caught plants discharging sewage, he
allegedly asked plants for money. If they gave him money, he
would keep silent. If not, he would report to the government.
Last year Huang said he received a message from Wu reporting a
plant pollution case and threatened him if he did not "solve the
problem." Huang would not elaborate on the nature of Wu's
threat.

14. (SBU) Xinhua reported that on June 12 Wu was found guilty
and would be sentenced on June 21, but then on June 21 reported
that his conviction had been stayed and that the courts would
reexamine the case. According to Wuxi FAO Director Cai Wu, the
final court ruling would be issued "soon."

-------------
Comment
-------------

15. (SBU) The environmental challenges facing East China are
daunting. Although China's top leadership is committed to
improving the environment, local officials seem unwilling to
place the environment ahead of economic development. NESI Vice
Director Wang Hua feared that the only way that real changes
would occur was in response to major crises, such as Lake Tai
and 2006's Songhua River crisis. She added that, in China, if
all levels of the government were seriously committed to solving
a problem there was no doubt that it would be solved. End
Comment.
JARRETT

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