Officials in Da Lat have spent years on the trail of illegal tin miners, filling the ventilation shafts in their underground tunnels. Instead of stopping the practice, these campaign appear to have pushed them from mines to reservoirs and streams.
A Thanh Nien investigation found that many of the miners now operate under the guise of licensed lake and stream dredging projects that persist even after officials attempt to shut them down.
During a visit to a project site on the bank of Chien Thang Reservoir on September 5, reporters found a pump working at full capacity drawing slurry rich with tin ore.
Several workers were shoveling the mixture of mud and ore into filtering machines.
All this was going on in spite of a stop-work order that the authorities issued on the project due to its poor results.
The reservoir dredging project was backed by the Da Lat-based Army Academy, which hired Nguyen Long Construction and Commerce Company to execute the contract.
Last July, the Lam Dong Water Supply Company issued a report to the provincial government saying that the project had severely the affected the reservoir and the water supply in the area.
The company said water samples collected at the reservoir were now 10 to 20 times more opaque than they used to be.
The reservoir's water treatment plants were overloaded as a result, hindering their ability to provide clean water to local households.
As a result, the company had to reduce its supply to around 35 percent of normal daily output or 2,000 cubic meters of water a day.
Luong Van Ngu, deputy director of Lam Dong’s Environment and Natural Resources Department, said he issued the stop work order on the project after reading the water company's report and sending an inspection team to the site.
Ngu said the investor and the contractor are not allowed to excavate any mineral resources in the area and are required to inform provincial authorities if they find any.
But it looks like Ngu’s words weren't taken very seriously.
The mining is still going on.
A representative from the Lam Dong Water Company said Friday that the water quality has not improved at all.
Da Tro Stream on the way to the Bidoup-Nui Ba tourism site was also stirred up for tin after a company was awarded a dredging permit.
Crews of dozens of workers were seen digging and filtering ore along nearly 500 meters of the stream during a recent visit by Thanh Nien reporters.
Authorities said illegal tin mines first appeared in town in 1995 and have kept popping up ever since, despite repeated crackdowns, including the most recent efforts in December 2011 and April 2013.
During that time, illegal miners dug up the famous Valley of Love and nearly destroyed a number of the city’s iconic pine forests.
Experts say the city's water resources are next.
Nguyen Ba Thuyen, deputy head of Lam Dong delegates at the National Assembly (Vietnam’s national legislature), blamed loose management for the continued tin mining.
“The illegal excavation keeps happening because we haven't strictly cracked down on it,” Thuyen said.
He questioned the role of the central government, since the natural resources ministry recently granted an extension to a tin survey project in the area.
“Surveying' in this case actually means 'excavating,” Thuyen said.
He said provincial authorities objected to the extension and he has personally questioned the ministry over its decision, but has yet to get a response.
“Tin excavation is severely affecting the environment," he said. "It has to be banned, full-stop.”