Residents of the eastern Chinese province of Shandong say testing of a massive water diversion project has polluted their fish farms, causing mass die-offs and millions of dollars' worth of damage.
"A large number [of fish] died, because of the water pollution," said a resident of Gupang village near Shandong's Dongping Lake, where more than 100 households rely on fish farms to make a living.
He said the local township government of Yinshan had so far refused to pay out compensation for the farmers' losses.
"What compensation? They are going round detaining the villagers," he said.
Villagers found 10,000 tons of dead fish floating on the surface of the lake after the project began testing from June 10-27, local sources said.
"They basically all died ... around 95 percent of them," the Gupang resident said. "They died from the pollution; from lack of oxygen."
He said an average fish-farm could net a family 100,000-200,000 yuan (U.S. $32,500) annually.
Hardest hit village
The farms are on the route of China's massive South-North water diversion project, a huge undertaking initially conceived by late supreme leader Mao Zedong and restarted in 2002, which began initial testing in May.
"There were a couple of households which had much bigger stocks this year, and they lost more than 1 million [yuan] (U.S. $163,000)," he said.
"It's really tough ... they are having problems finding enough food now."
He said Gupang was the hardest hit among other fish-farming villages in the district, and that local farmers were at a loss about next year's plans.
"Around 95 percent of people here rely on the lake," he said.
An official who answered the phone at the Yinshan township headquarters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party declined to comment on the villager's complaint.
"We have special departments for dealing with this sort of thing, and I'm not one of the people dealing with it," the official said. "They will be able to tell you."
However, repeated calls to the number the official supplied went unanswered during office hours on Monday.
The water diversion scheme will eventually pump nearly 45 billion cubic meters (1.59 trillion cubic feet) of water, roughly the equivalent of the rate of flow in the Yellow River, from the heavily polluted Yangtze River.
The eastern part of the project will pump water from the eastern province of Jiangsu on the Yangtze, to parched Shandong, via the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal.
A central pipeline is slated to begin operations next year, supplying water from the lush Yangtze province of Hubei to the semi-desert cities of Beijing and Tianjin.
A western section of the project has been stalled following planning problems, but aims to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze River to the Yellow River, which runs through some of the driest and most poverty-stricken regions of China.
Officials have admitted that China is facing a "grave" environmental crisis, with more than half its cities affected by acid rain and one-sixth of its major rivers too polluted even to water crops with.
In March, activists warned that local residents were diverting toxic effluent that threatened their fish farms into the Yangtze River.
The fish-farmers took the action after healthy carp placed into a tank of the water died within 10 minutes.
Activists say that chemical factories empty waste along the Yangtze, while toxic effluent sometimes pours into the Yangtze from its tributary, the Qinhuai River.
More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have taken their toll on the country's natural resources, sparking a huge increase in public unrest linked to environmental degradation and health problems caused by pollution.
Tap water supplied to millions of residents in hundreds of Chinese cities routinely fails to pass water quality tests, official figures show.
But activists who confront the authorities and vested commercial interests over pollution are often subject to revenge attacks and government harassment.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.