Zheng Dong, a staffer at Qiantang River Waterkeeper, typically works long hours patrolling the waterways of Quzhou City in Zhejiang Province, China. May 1st of 2016, however, was not a typical day for him. He was patrolling the river with two volunteer water-quality monitors, Yunlong Yang and Shiliang Li, when they passed a hillside dubbed “Radish Hill” on which there were 26 pig-houses belonging to Xixi Farm. To the right of these structures was a pool for pig-waste, from which a foul-smelling stream of muddy wastewater flowed down the hill into an irrigation canal, saturating adjacent farmland with pig-waste and, ultimately, draining into a nearby waterway.
Mr. Dong inquired of local villagers about the pollution, and they told him that Xixi Farm’s draining of animal sewage into nearby farmland had been a common practice for nearly two years. He immediately contacted Qiantang River Waterkeeper’s longtime ally, “Focus Today,” a Zhejiang television program, to bring awareness to the issue. Within the week the program scheduled a film-crew to investigate the site, and on May 17 the program aired their report. The news of the pollution soon reached the secretary of Zhejiang Provincial party, Mr. Baolong Xia. Within two days Mr. Xia had investigated the farm himself and condemned the pollution. He emphasized the need for a proper environmental impact assessment and called for a rapid upgrade of livestock operations.
The owner of Xixi Farm acknowledged that substandard sewage management caused pollution, and that proper treatment of sewage would benefit him, neighboring farms and the nation. And, under the guidance of various governmental departments, Xixi became a model ecological farm within a month, a development that earned the praise of Mr. Xia and brought pride to Mr. Dong.
In Zhejiang Province there are many stories like that of Radish Hill, which are becoming known thanks largely to Qiantang River Waterkeeper’s training citizens in environmental protection and water safety. The Xixi cleanup brought renewed support for Qiantang River Waterkeeper and the Zhejiang Environmental Observation program’s “Clean Source Action” project from the Alibaba Public Welfare Foundation, an environmental-protection fund established by China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group.
The Clean Source Action project hosts roundtable meetings with partners to explore solutions to local water-pollution issues, and invites members of environmental protection departments and civil society organizations to train the public, especially young people, in environmental inspection skills. There are now over 170 volunteer water-quality monitors who have joined Qiantang River Waterkeeper in its efforts to achieve clean water. A mobile app called “smart-river,” designed to address river issues, has led to the resolution of 91 pollution cases, including Xinnan Lake’s acid-water problem, illegal discharge of wastewater by an industrial park, and dumping of waste near coastlines.
Environmental observers have provided provincial and municipal news media with nearly 100 pieces of evidence of the effectiveness of this grassroots movement, which has now drawn government’s attention and spurred many regional leaders to support Qiantang River Waterkeeper.