Transforming an Industrial City into an Eco-Friendly Tourist City

Urban improvements in Huangshi attracted new real estate projects along the rehabilitated Cihu lake. Photo credit: Yongqin Xiong, Huangshi PMO.

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Huangshi in the People’s Republic of China is a model of systematic pollution control and ecological rehabilitation of lakes in small and medium-sized cities.

Overview

A project supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has converted Huangshi City in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from an industrial city into an eco-friendly tourist destination through innovative solutions.

The project’s integrated approach, including wastewater collection and treatment, lake rehabilitation, engineered wetland construction, sludge treatment, solid waste collection and treatment, and capacity building, is a model of systematic pollution control and ecological rehabilitation of polluted urban lakes in small and medium-sized cities.

Moreover, the project piloted community-based solid waste sorting and a sponge city approach.

All of these contributed to the environmentally sustainable and socioeconomically inclusive development of Huangshi City.

Project Snapshot

  • 15 November 2012 : Approval Date
  • 23 November 2021 : Closing Date

  • $194.84 million : Total Project Cost

  • Executing agency :
    • Huangshi Municipal Government, Hubei Province, People’s Republic of China
  • Financing :
    • Asian Development Bank ($100 million loan)
Context

Huangshi is 80 kilometers (km) southeast of Wuhan—the provincial capital of Hubei. The city is spread over a floodplain on the south bank of the Yangtze River. It has three lakes: Cihu, Qingshan, and Qinggang. It is one of the country’s garden cities.

Mining and its associated secondary industries have driven the city’s economic development. However, resource depletion and the need for more balanced and sustainable development prompted the municipal government to adopt an urban renewal strategy, which involves upgrading the city’s industries and developing new ones. 

Challenge

Reliance on heavy industry and inadequate investments in urban infrastructure over the years brought environmental and urban development challenges in Huangshi. General neglect of pollution had allowed untreated industrial and domestic wastewater to flow into urban lakes. The city’s solid waste management system was inadequate, and the sludge from wastewater treatment plants was untreated.

Water quality in the three lakes was extremely low—at class V or worse.[1] This endangered the public health and safety of those living near the polluted inland waterways and in areas with deficient urban services.

Inadequate infrastructure investments constrained sustainable urban development and limited Huangshi’s ability to promote and support balanced regional development in Hubei province.

Solution

The Hubei Huangshi Urban Pollution Control and Environmental Management Project  upgraded the urban environmental infrastructure and services in the city through innovative and sustainable solutions, such as community-based solid waste sorting and a sponge city approach, which uses nature-based solutions to mitigate disaster risks and improve climate resilience.

Solid waste management. The executing agency recruited a consulting firm financed by the loan to implement a community-based solid waste sorting scheme that demonstrates the reduce–reuse–recycle approach. With the support of local government, the consulting firm set the classification category based on international and national experiences, purchased the classification rubbish bins, and conducted community trainings.

The project constructed 16 new and upgraded 3 existing solid waste collection and transfer stations; and purchased vehicles to collect, transport, and compact solid waste.

The pilot scheme for solid waste sorting and recycling with community participation was designed by the project at approval in 2012—5 years before the PRC initiated solid waste sorting. The State Council enacted the Action Plan of Municipal Solid Waste Sorting System in March 2017. 

Lake rehabilitation and wetland construction. The project’s sponge city smart and sustainable approach increased the lakes’ water retention capacity with 2.46 million cubic meters (m3) through sludge dredging and wetland construction, and built water-permeable roads, green roofs, a sunken garden, ecological ditches, and ecological embankments on the banks of the lake. This was 3 years before the central government selected the first batch of sponge pilot cities.

The project removed 1.25 million (m3) of contaminated sediments from the three lakes, established 21.66 km of ecological embankments, and constructed 115.8 ha of engineered wetlands and a wetland education center. A total of 80,000 (m3) per day of treated wastewater discharged from the wastewater treatment plant was reused and further treated by the constructed wetland.

Wastewater collection and treatment system. The project constructed a wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 30,000 (m3) per day; installed 79.2 km of sewers, including three associated pumping stations; and purchased a package of sewer maintenance equipment, vehicles, and monitoring devices. To enhance asset management, the project developed a smart system that integrated a geographic information system database and online monitoring system, which surveyed 812 km of the urban wastewater network.

Sludge treatment. Sludge treatment facilities were constructed with 179 tons per day capacity. The service life of the existing landfill facilities was prolonged since the treated sludge is reused as raw material by a cement plant. 

Gender mainstreaming in capacity development. Out of 264 municipal government staff, 119 women were trained through 15 training workshops on mobilization, solid waste sorting guidance, regular sorting, outreach awareness, and distribution of publicity materials. Likewise, 3,720 women out of 8,080 participants joined 22 public awareness campaign activities on environmental protection and public health.

Results

Huangshi underwent transformational change from an industrial city to an eco-friendly tourist city. The average annual per capita income of urban households grew—mainly from tertiary industries,  including tourism—by 9.5% annually from 2010 to 2021. The project benefits about 849,200 people, including 399,200 women.

The improvement of local environmental infrastructure has led to a better and cleaner Huangshi and reduced community exposures to untreated wastewater and solid waste, which affect public health and well-being. This led to an improved investment climate in the city, which attracted real estate projects along the rehabilitated Cihu, Qingshan, and Qinggang lakes and the newly constructed wetland.

Wastewater collection coverage increased to 100% from 71%, while collection rate increased to 98% from 44%. Sewage sludge treatment rate increased to 100% from 0% and solid waste collection rate increased to 100% from 79%.

Water quality in the three lakes improved to class IV and to class III in some sections of Cihu lake. In October 2022, swans flied to Cihu lake for the first time after more than 10 years. 

The residents happily returned to their homes along the constructed wetland as living conditions improved after project implementation.

Lessons

The urban environment can be improved through a smart, sustainable, and integrated approach. A smart and systematic design for pollutants interception, pollutants treatment, and facilities operation and maintenance need to be considered simultaneously. The Huangshi project demonstrated this approach and has helped the city transition to environmentally sustainable and socioeconomically inclusive development.

It is also important to ensure the financial sustainability of the operation and maintenance of the environmental infrastructure after construction. In Huangshi, the operation of wastewater treatment, sludge treatment, and solid waste collection and treatment is supported by a cost-based tariff. The facilities operator may apply for tariff adjustment with the local government when it could no longer cover the operational cost. Then, the government consults the public and conducts a public hearing before it decides on the proposed tariff adjustment.

For the proper maintenance of the ecological embankment and engineered wetland, the operation unit applies for funding under the municipal budget each year. The unit is now exploring ways to generate revenue to lighten the municipal government’s burden.


[1] Water quality standards of the People’s Republic of China have five classes that cover 24 basic quality parameters. Class I is pristine; class II is for high-value fish production areas and spawning habitats; class III is suitable for urban water supply; class IV is suitable for irrigation and recreation; and class V is polluted and not recommended for human consumption or agricultural use.

Baochang Zheng
Senior Project Management Officer, East Asia Department, Asian Development Bank

Baochang is responsible for the preparation and implementation of ADB’s water and urbar sector loan projects in the PRC. Prior to ADB, he served as deputy general manager of Liuzhou Veolia Water Supply Company, a Sino-French Joint venture. He holds a master’s degree in Water Services Management from the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Netherlands.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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