Rejuvenated Fenhe River now a source of happiness and pride
The Fenhe reservoir in the county of Loufan ensures a stable water supply to the lower stream of the river in Taiyuan. [Photo by Su Xiaojian for China Daily]
Shanxi province's decades-long strategy to improve the local environment pays off
Wang Xiaoyan, a resident in Shanxi's provincial capital of Taiyuan, moved to her new home in a residential community near the Fenhe River two years ago.
Since then, she has developed a hobby of walking along the river's banks in the evening.
"The Fenhe River scenic belt is now my favorite place to visit every day," Wang said. "The fresh air, the lush vegetation, the clean water and the reflection of lights on the river make it a real attraction."
But things were different about two decades ago, Wang said.
"Living near the river was unpleasant in the past. And no one would like to jog or walk along the river," Wang said. "Fenhe was almost a dry river throughout the year. If there was some water, it stank."
With a length of more than 710 kilometers, Fenhe is the second-longest river in Shanxi. The Taiyuan section is about 100 km, about one-seventh of the river's total length.
Wang Xia, an official and engineer at the administrative committee of the Fenhe River Scenic Area in Taiyuan, said she is a witness to the positive changes of the river over the decades.
"Taiyuan launched an environment improvement project for the river in 1998 and I began to work for the project in 1999," Wang Xia said. "At that time, my job was to inspect the river, locate pollution sources and put forward proposals for pollution control, ecological recovery and landscaping design."
She said Fenhe was initially revitalized when water from the upper stream was continuously supplied to the water course in Taiyuan in 2000.
Efforts have since continued in the areas of pollution control, ecological restoration and landscaping development. It has turned the region along the river into a pleasant habitat for both wildlife and human beings and an attractive scenic belt for visitors and locals, according to Wang Xia.
"The Fenhe River Scenic Area is now a showcase of Taiyuan's ever-improving environment, culture and economy."
The latest move for Fenhe's development was the launch of the fourth-phase river improvement project in June 2020, according to Guo Fan, another official at the administrative committee of the Fenhe River Scenic Area.
"The new phase of the project includes enhancing embankments to control floods, developing wetland parks and adding other infrastructure facilities," Guo said.
The fourth-phase project was completed in September 2021. As a result, 1.9 million square meters of green land; sightseeing paths with their length totaling 43 km; and a water body with a surface area of 1.6 million sq m and a volume of 5.5 million cubic meters were added to the Fenhe River Scenic Area.
Contributing to the Fenhe River's revival are the strict discharge and emission standards for local enterprises and the construction of more industrial and domestic sewage treatment facilities, according to Wang Ji'en, an official at the rural and urban management bureau in Taiyuan.
"There are seven large domestic sewage treatment plants in Taiyuan, which can dispose of 1.27 million metric tons of sewage a day," Wang Ji'en said. "That's a huge capacity compared with Taiyuan's daily discharge of 950,000 tons."
Improving rivers is one of the priorities on the environmental protection agenda in Shanxi. Similar programs have been launched for other rivers in the province.
Shanxi's innovative practice to harness and improve its rivers is to appoint chiefs for each river. A river chief is usually the head of the local government according to each section of the river. It can be the head of the township, county, city or provincial government.
Shanxi's waterways are now taken care of by 16,053 river chiefs at village level; 4,336 river chiefs at township level; 899 river chiefs at county level; and 78 river chiefs at city level.
The province's eight major rivers, including the Yellow River and Fenhe, are taken care of by provincial-level river chiefs, who are the leaders of the provincial government and the provincial committee of Communist Party of China.
Li Shu contributed to this story.