By Ngan Ho
At 20,000 RMB ( $3,080 USD) income per capita, the 801 villagers of Xiejiaqiao have the highest GDP in Henglu Township, which is made up of seven communities located in the mountain greenery of Zhejiang province. Part of that economic success stems from the village’s prosperous pecan and bamboo production–crops that couldn’t thrive without the Yuxi River.
The Yuxi runs through the heart of the village and recently underwent a government-funded cleanup for sewage pollution. According to Xiejiaqiao Mayor Yang Mo Yi, the government invested 5 million RMB ($770,000) to clean and purify the river between 2008 and 2010.
“Our village was the first to raise questions about protecting the river,” says retired policeman Zhou Jian Guo, who used to lead the watch crew monitoring the river. “We took such actions to protect our environment in order to make our village better and more popular.”
Government officials approached Zhou in 2002 to head a 5-year plan to patrol the river with seven other people. Together, they’ve insured that villagers don’t commercially fish or dispose of their trash in the river, both of which are prohibited by law.
While construction efforts made the river less dangerous above ground, the more recent government funds have helped make the Yuxi safer below the surface.
Henglu’s Vice Township Leader Luo Zhong Ming said manufacturing companies appeared after economic reforms took place 30 years ago and started to pollute the water.
The government has then invested heavily on recreating and maintaining the purity of the river, Luo said.
Signs posted alongside the river’s bank also describe the stages the Yuxi river water passes through during purification.
The water is first collected into giant pools, which are connected to a series of underground network tunnel systems. It then passes through several zones of purification to remove foreign bodies and bacteria before getting categorized as reusable or disposable water.
“On one hand, the villagers live here and they depend on the river,” Luo said. “On the other hand, our river looks beautiful now so villagers can also hold some guests for tourism uses.”
While Yang says the water quality is now “supreme,” bottles and cardboard boxes and other rubbish still collected in the river’s reservoir when torrential rains caused trash to pile up this month.
“The water is not yet drinkable,” Luo said. “The villagers only use the stream for external purposes such as planting or washing.”
Villagers said they are typically happy with the streams condition now but believe the government will continue investing more money on creating better standards for the water.
“People’s living quality has been raised and villagers can live longer now because we have cleaner water to use,” Zhou says.