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Ecological Restoration Turns Degraded Village into Thriving Tourist Site

By DENG, YANICHONGQING|May 18,2022

In early summer, Dachang Lake National Wetland Park presents the same scenery as Poet Su Shi wrote, “On a sunny day, the shimmering West Lake looks gorgeous; on a rainy day, the misty mountains around it are marvelous.”

Dachang Lake, formed in the Dachang section of Daning River after the impoundment of the Three Gorges Project, is the largest lake in the Three Gorges Reservoir area. The peninsula where Guangming Village locates is like an eagle’s head embedded in the lake.

The lush mountains all around are reflected in the lucid Dachang Lake and birds glide by over the rippling water surface. Guangming Village has fostered a rural tourism complex with a focus on primitive villages, ecological agriculture, and farming culture, which has effectively boosted villagers’ incomes and injected new vitality into rural vitalization.

The stunning view of Dachang Lake. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The degraded environment in the past

Dachang Lake was formed for a special reason, so its water fluidity is poorer than natural lakes. Moreover, due to the local people’s weak awareness of environmental protection, the surface and shore of Dachang Lake used to be littered with garbage, and untreated sewage from surrounding villages and towns was discharged into it.

At the same time, the alternating wet and dry seasons of the Three Gorges Reservoir resulted in a riparian zone with an elevation difference of 30 meters along the bank of Dachang Lake.

During the dry season, the villagers nearby grew vegetables and raised poultry in the zone. During a wet season, vegetable residues, etc. were brought into the water. As the waterway along the Daning River was improved with the rise of the water level after the completion of the Three Gorges Reservoir, more than 20 processing and transportation enterprises with river gravel as raw materials, such as gypsum factories, and gravel mining and grinding factories, emerged on both sides of the river, which caused a great impact on the local ecological environment. Increasingly worse water quality led to a seriously degraded environment.

Moreover, a sharp decline in the fish population in the lake resulted from overfishing by many of the villagers living along the lake who had been fishing for generations. They couldn’t make a living by fishing, so most of them, except for a few fishermen, opted for migrant workers. 

Wushan County, known as the “gateway to northeast Chongqing,” is a national key ecological function zone and a national strategic reserve base of freshwater resources. It is also the last pass of the ecological shield in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The monitoring results of its outbound water quality represent the water quality of the Chongqing section of the Yangtze River. Daning River, where Dachang Lake is located, is a primary tributary of the Yangtze River, and its water quality will significantly impact the main streams of the Yangtze River.

The decision-makers in the county were faced with a severe test: how to promote the revitalization of villages such as Guangming Village, restore the ecological environment of Dachang Lake and improve the water quality.

Diversified Restoration 

To improve the ecological environment of Dachang Lake, Wushan has shut down 15 heavily polluting enterprises such as cement factories and copper mines and regulated three animal farming enterprises around the lake in recent years. Some villagers also closed their farms and began planting oranges in the front and back of their houses. As the environment has been improved, wild geese sometimes rest in the orange groves, and the villagers volunteer to be bird keepers. After a 10-year fishing ban on the Yangtze River was rolled out, they have become volunteer fishery protectors.

Since the implementation of the policy, 325 fishing boats have been banned, 650 fishermen have been offered new jobs, and more than 50 million freshwater fishes have been released in the practice of stocking. With the completion of the Dachang Sewage Treatment Plant, all outlets along the lake have been regulated to ensure that the sewage is discharged after centralized treatment according to the standards.

With the help of the special fund for the green development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, the ecological protection and restoration of Dachang Lake have been carried out. As a result, the lakeside ecological landscape forest has been created through water surface garbage removal, vegetation revetment, cliff reinforcement, riparian zone governance demonstration, etc.

Meanwhile, Wushan has also built a multi-pond ecosystem of 10 mu (about 0.7 hectares) along the river and lake. The ecosystem is used as a natural water purifier, where the farmland tailwater and initial rainwater are diverted into the ponds, precipitated according to different grades, and purified by aquatic plants. In this way, the quality of the water in the lake is further enhanced.

After seven years of construction, Dachang Lake National Wetland Park passed the inspection in December 2018. The wetland of 1,020 hectares accounts for 69.68 percent of the parks’ total area, which reaches 1,464 hectares. The quality of water sections in the lake remains at Grade II and even arrives at Grade I in some months. The number of bird species has increased from 131 to 143, and more than 10,000 large and medium-sized swimming or wading birds, including geese and ducks, live through the winter in Dachang Lake every year.

Birds swim in Dachang Lake. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

In addition, Wushan will also fully leverage the advantages of natural resources such as “lakes, ditches, ponds, canals, weirs, and streams” to build the Dachang Lake small and micro wetland cluster, while improving the wetland’s ecological environment through surface flow and pipe drain wetland technology. In this way, the small and micro wetlands will blend with integrated tourism and the beautiful village.

Promising future

Looking at Xingsheng Village across the lake, Guangming Village is going to complete the construction of the small and micro wetland cluster.

Dachang Lake has explored the “wetland plus” model and the governance of the riparian zone to plant Zhongshanshan (a kind of Montezuma cypresses) below the watermark of 175 meters so that a forest belt with colorful leaves has been formed around the lake. Submerged plants such as cattail, variegated giant reed, rushes, and reed have been planted in the riparian zone to enrich the species of reservoir bank plants and foster a benign habitat environment for birds. Wushan implements the construction of the wetland ecological peninsula project in the peninsula where Guangming Village is located. With a focus on wetland protection and restoration, the project is aimed to recover vegetation in the project area, maintain the good water quality in the main body of Dachang Lake and improve the water quality in local areas.

The idyllic view of Dachang Lake. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Relying on the construction of the wetland ecological peninsula, Wushan has launched the project to build Guangming Village into a rural revitalization demonstration site. The construction of the ecological peninsula will greatly improve the environment of the village, laying a solid foundation for building a rural revitalization demonstration site. Taking this opportunity, Guangming Village will work to implement the ecological transformation of the village and the restoration and reconstruction of traditional rural elements while developing ecological industries such as citrus. The village will create a symbiotic agricultural complex of wetlands and mountains with these efforts and help farmers raise income.

Noticing the change in their hometown, the villagers who had worked outside decided to return. With the completion of the village’s rural tourism complex and the opening of the Zhengzhou-Chongqing High-speed Railway and Wushan-Dachang Expressway, more people will visit Dachang Lake and Guangming Village. An even brighter future is awaiting them.

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