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This April Fool’s Day, no one was joking around in the Erhai Lake preservation district.
On April 1, 2017, visitor Xingxing Diandeng had to reschedule a planned three-day trip to Dali, Yunnan Province during the Qingming Festival holiday when he noticed his hotel reservation payment had been refunded. What happened?
On March 31, 2017, the municipal government of Dali shut down all restaurants and inns within the core area of the eco-preservation district around Erhai Lake until a nearby sewage interception project is completed. The core area is densely populated with over 1,800 restaurants and inns that offer enchanting lake views to visitors. The project shut down every single one of the popular “lake-view houses.”
Dali has long been famed for its snow-capped mountains and the tender moonlight on Erhai Lake. Every year, it draws steady streams of visitors from home and abroad. In recent years, however, Dali’s tourism capacity has been overwhelmed due to the development and construction of the town of Haidong. Shuanglang, a small town of Bai people by the lake, received 2 million visits in 2014. In 2016, the volume exceeded 3.2 million. Within the one-square-kilometer area at the core of the town’s tourist zone, there are more than 580 restaurants and inns.
Heavier pollution has accompanied the increase in visitors. Despite Shuanglang’s focus on agriculture over industry, the area around Erhai Lake has been listed for poor water quality due to subpar treatment of sewage from the inns before it is dumped directly into the lake.
Tourism has also impacted neighboring islands such as Jinsuo (Golden Shuttle). For generations, the local fishermen inhabiting Jinsuo Island have survived by fishing, but now more and more locals are turning to tourism, selling souvenirs, running restaurants and inns or serving as tour guides.
The heavy flow of tourists¡ªmore than 2,000 daily¡ªhas resulted in plentiful concerns. “Drinking water tops the list,” stresses villager Yang Xu. As the water quality in Erhai Lake deteriorates, local access to clean drinking water is lost, and they are forced to explore other methods to get water, such as filtering it from karst caves. “Aquatic food is most popular with tourists,” Yang adds. “Just a couple of years ago, during fishing season in April, we could catch up to 5,000 kilograms of fish a month. Now, however, the population of snail and shellfish has shrunk due to the deteriorating water quality of the lake. Many fishermen now go elsewhere to buy fish.”
And to provide better views, the inns have become taller, some eclipsing the limits set by the government. To increase their space, many inns began occupying public roads. Some even extended decks over the lake.