Located some 100 miles southwest of Beijing, Lake Baiyangdian, known as North China’s Kidney and its largest wetland ecosystem, is a quietly shrinking testament to China’s dangerous water crisis. Since the late 1960s, the lake has shrunk over one-third to its current size of less than 140 square miles. The surrounding region has suffered severe droughts since the ’80s, thanks in part to controls previously put in place by the government to stop river flooding, a drop in rainfall and an increase in climate temperature and population. Pollution has only compounded the damage.
Once dense with fish, the lake played a crucial role in regulating the region’s climate, reducing floods and filtering the notoriously polluted rivers that flow through it. The source now relies on water transfusion, and much of the lake’s water quality has surpassed Grade Five in terms of pollution, making it “too toxic even to touch”.
Chinese filmmakers Lynn Zhang and Shirley Han Ying follow residents in the surrounding area who equally contribute to and suffer from the diminishing water supply. Those who rely on the water for livelyhood aren’t sure whether the lake’s quality will ever be fully recovered, but as one resident points out, the shrinking wetland is but “a microcosm of the water crisis of the North China Plain”.
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