Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

People's Republic of China: Suzhou Creek’s Ecological Comeback
October 2010

Shanghai ’s Suzhou Creek breathes almost normally these days, thanks to the efforts of the city government and people of Shanghai. The once murky and fetid river has been transformed into an ecological wonder. BOLD STEPS TO REVIVE A RIVER Shanghai’s government embarked on the huge task of cleaning Suzhou Creek through the ADB-financed Suzhou Creek Rehabilitation Project. The city government tackled the pollution problems head-on with bold moves to restore the river’s original ecology. The most difficult task proved to be reducing and managing sewage dumped daily into the river and its adjoining canals. A pipe-system now collects wastewater which is then transported and processed at a state-of-the-art water treatment plant. Once treated, the water is discharged back into the river to flush out more filth. This process is “an essential, basic measure,” says Xu Zuo Zheng, General Manager of the Shanghai Suzhou Creek Rehabilitation Construction Company, as this prevents sewage from entering the river. Other strategies employed by the project included: Constructing control gates to block waste from side canals and increase water flow Shutting down or relocating polluting factories that could not treat their own waste Pumping oxygen into the river to improve water quality using special boats Transforming the embankments into pleasant residential neighborhoods and ecological parks ONCE AN UPSET IN NATURE’S BALANCE The 53 kilometers of the Suzhou Creek running through Shanghai served as convenient sewer for the city as it grew to become one of the world’s largest mega-cities and the engine of PRC’s dynamic economy. Hundreds of barges that transport goods and solid waste out of the city once plied this waterway. Wharves along the river served as loading docks, and became one of the sources of the river’s foul smell. Large amounts of discharge of untreated industrial and municipal wastewater were also dumped in the river's many canals. Algae choked its surface.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the worst sordid state of Suzhou Creek as it turned black and putrid. Makeshift houses lined the riverbanks and greenery could barely grow. It was not until 1999 that changes in the river’s state became apparent. Today, with the Suzhou Creek Rehabilitation Project, Suzhou Creek’s stench is gone and it no longer flows black. SPRUCE UP AFTER CLEAN UP With the daunting task of resuscitating the river finally in full swing, the beautification of the riverbanks began. The old wharves and houses were dismantled and a comprehensive resettlement plan ensured the relocation of 7,700 people affected by the rehabilitation project. Employment opportunities were opened to almost 4,000 skilled and unskilled workers. Trees and flowering bushes were planted. Promenades were put in place, as well as a new museum about the history of Suzhou Creek to increase environmental awareness among Shanghai citizens. Residents now enjoy the river and some even do their early morning exercises along the banks. But what the city government boasts of most proudly is the new Jing’an solid waste transfer station, which takes the place of the unsightly barges that once collected urban trash. Built in Jing’an District in the heart of Shanghai, the garbage transfer station is of the best international design and could easily be mistaken for any slick, modern, urban building. It does not emit foul odors and most people living near it did not even know it was a garbage station. Some thought it was a new park at the intersection.

KEEPING A RIVER HEALTHY The revival of Suzhou Creek continues. Shanghai has ambitious plans of bringing life back into the river. Their target is to improve the river’s water quality by 2010 to make it inhabitable by fish and other organisms. Xu Zuo Zheng says, “With improved water quality and the renewal of the embankments, Suzhou Creek should become a place for sightseeing and tourism.” For Shanghai citizens, maintaining Suzhou Creek’s health means keeping their city healthy and alive. Vice Director Zhu Shiqing of the Shanghai Water Authority asserts, “Environmental protection is now the city’s priority. If the environment is not protected, economic development will be negatively affected. The leaders of the municipal government understand this very clearly. Taking care of the environment means helping Shanghai’s economy.” RELATED LINKS View Photo Gallery. View Suzhou Creek Rehabilitation Project.

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in October 2005: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.