National water resources master plan looks to revive polluted rivers

February 07, 2023 - 08:22
Hà Nội has treated water pollution at Nhuệ River, but the plan has not met the requirements. Meanwhile, urban area design plans along Lừ and Sét rivers in Thanh Xuân District are still under construction.
A section of the polluted Sét River in Hà Nội. — Photo

HÀ NỘI — In a national effort to revive contaminated waterways, the newly unveiled national water resources master plan has stirred hope across the country, though environmental specialists caution that significant work remains to be done.

Nguyễn Thị Quý, living by the Sét River in Phương Liệt Ward, Hà Nội’s Thanh Xuân District, said: “The river is polluted and the water is a dark colour. As the river is located by a market, people even throw soy pulp into the river.”

“I have to close all windows, otherwise we will all get sick from pollution,” she told Voice of Vietnam (VOV) newspaper.

Other rivers in Hà Nội, such as Tô Lịch, Kim Ngưu, Nhuệ, and Đáy, have been used as wastewater sewages for dozens of years.

The city’s authorities have made efforts to revive those polluted rivers, but a lot of work remains to be done.

In the 1990s, embankments were built, and the infamously-polluted Tô Lịch River was dredged. Other ideas were proposed, such as pumping water from the Hồng (Red) River to clean up Tô Lịch River in 2009, cleaning Tô Lịch River with nano-bioreactor technology in 2019 or reviving Tô Lịch Rover into a historical, cultural and spiritual park.

However, none of these plans went beyond a trial phase.

Hà Nội has treated water pollution at Nhuệ River, but the plan has not met the requirements. Meanwhile, urban area design plans along Lừ and Sét rivers in Thanh Xuân District are still under construction.

Yên Xá wastewater treatment plant project, expected to be handed over in 2022, is still in progress.

Four other projects in Kiến Hưng (Hà Đông District), Sơn Tây Town, Nhuệ river basin and Yên Sở are seeking investment.

The slow pollution treatment progress has worried the city’s residents.

A resident, who declined to be named, said: “It turns smelly on sunny days, affecting the health of both people living by the rivers and passers-by.”

“Households facing the rivers have to close windows all day around. We have been hearing about plans to build an embankment and wastewater pumping lines for a long time, but we do not know when these projects will start.”

The same situation is reported in HCM City in canals such as Nhiêu Lộc - Thị Nghè, Tham Lương - Bến Cát and Xuyên Tâm.

Associate Professor Nguyễn Đinh Tuấn, vice chairman of the HCM City Association of Water and Environment, spoke highly of local authorities’ efforts to recover the canals, relocate slums, and install wastewater collection systems under the canals. Some canals have been recovered, however, untreated wastewater is still being pumped into the river.

"Firstly, we have to treat all wastewater before it is discharged into the environment," Tuấn said. "The current rate of treated wastewater in urban areas is low, for example, the rate of HCM City is only about 10 per cent. Secondly, we have to remove houses which encroach canals to make way for water flow.”

However, he said the investment is huge. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars to recover Nhiêu Lộc-Thị Nghè Canal in its first phase plan.

“That’s one of the reasons delaying renovation of canals in urban areas,” he said.

Associate Professor Phùng Chí Sỹ, director of the Environmental Technology Centre (ENTEC), said: “We have solved problems on the surfaces but not the roots. We tried to dredge the rivers and build the embankments to limit the direct discharge sources but have been unable to block sources from the upper stream.”

“We have constructed wastewater treatment factories, but how to collect wastewater back to the factory is a big problem,” he said.

Expectations of resource plan

Dr Hoàng Dương Tùng, former deputy head of the Việt Nam Environment Administration, expected that the national water resource master plan, which was newly approved by the end of 2022, will help revive dead rivers.

One of the plan’s targets is to have 30 per cent of the total wastewater volume in urban areas from Grade II and above collected and treated.

“I think this is a huge ambition that requires the responsibility of not only the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment but also all ministries, sectors and localities,” Tùng said.

Associate Professor Phùng Chí Sỹ emphasised the important role of the national water resources plan in reviving dead rivers.

He said financial resources need to be created by calling for private investment. These can be policies to attract investors; for example, those who renovate rivers and canals will be given priority to exploit parts of river banks for lease and business. — VNS