Wu Lihong Released From Jail, Lake Tai Being Restored

Wu Lihong

Wu Lihong fights for Lake Tai

As it is remembered, China’s Lake Tai sits a sparkling gem in the Jiangsu province, home to many fisheries and a source of fresh water for many of the surrounding villages.

Lihong began to notice a strange smell throughout the town.

Today, however, the reality is much different. Algae blooms, dead fish, and industrial waste for 20 years of unchecked dumping line the shores. Wu Lihong has made a lifelong commitment to cleaning up the area. His journey began in 1989 as a factory worker along the lakes shores. As China grew, incentives were offered for dam and chemical plant building, a thriving industrial center began to take shape.

Lihong began to notice a strange smell all throughout the town. In searching, he found hundreds of pipes leading from factories, including the one he worked at, straight into the lake. Lihong began to take pictures of the pipes. He organized a collection of water samples, and filed petitions with local government.

Lake Tai was beginning to show the toll off all the dumping.

Fisherman at Lake Tai

Fisherman on the green waters of Lake Tai

“You have all the pollution problems you could imagine surrounding one lake,” said Deborah Seligson, of the World Resources Institute. “You have agricultural runoff of fertilizers, pesticides of all kinds, organic pollutants … and you have industrial pollution from factories.”

Local governments would listen patiently to Lihong, but nothing was done. Lihong began to take his case to higher ranking members of the Communist Party, bypassing local government officials. In 2005, the National People’s Congress awarded Lihong an “Environmental Warrior” award for his efforts.

Green surf at Lake Tai

Green surf at Lake Tai

“When the government gave me the award, they expected me to be on their side, but I had to be honest,” Lihong said. No tangible difference was visible around Lake Tai and more untreated waste water poured into the lake everyday. Lihong saw local government attempting various cleanup methods, but seemed to have no long term plan to resolve the problem.

Then the bribes came. Gifts where offered to Lihong, by government officials and factory presidents. Soon, police were sitting in front of Lihong’s house, watching him.

Finally, charges of blackmail, fraud and extortion were brought against Lihong in 2007. He was sentenced to three years in prison. It was later in 2007, that Lake Tai finally succumbed to a massive algae bloom. The water glowed a fluorescent green from a thick layer of scum that thrived on the pollutants. 2.3 million people on the northern shores were left without drinking water. Lihong watched silently from prison.

the Chinese government finally forced thousands of lakeside factories to close, and pledged $14 billion to clean up the lake by 2020.

By the end of the ear, the Chinese government finally forced thousands of lakeside factories to close, and pledged $14 billion to clean up the lake by 2020.

A farmer that has lived by the lake for 25 years, Zhou Xunluo notes:

“Look how bad the algae is! Without Wu Lihong and his hard work, this would be much worse.”"

Interviewed from prison, Lihong said he plans to jump right back into his efforts after serving his sentence.

“The environment belongs to the people, and we need to protect it,” he said. “I just want the water to be clean, for the next generation.”

Lihong was released from prison this April, 2010.
Fishing Lake Tai

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