Environmental focus lifts public happiness
As the ancient attraction of 'evening ferries on Fenhe' has been resurrected in the wake of the river's revival, Jinyang Bridge is now a landmark destination in Taiyuan. [Photo by Li Zhaomin for China Daily]
Cleaned-up Fenhe River is brought back to life and 2.8-million-hectare reforested areas bring joy and beauty to local residents and visitors
Zhao Dan, a resident of Taiyuan, the capital city of North China's Shanxi province, has developed a habit over recent years to cycle along the Fenhe River to her workplace in the morning and cycle back home the same route.
"To commute by bike is both healthy and environmentally friendly," Zhao said. "It's also a pleasant journey when seeing the ever-improving environment of the Fenhe River."
A major tributary of the Yellow River, Fenhe is the second-largest in Shanxi province.
"When seeing the clear water and the lush trees and grasses along the river, and breathing in the fresh air, I always feel grateful for the local authorities' efforts in improving the environment," Zhao said.
Chen Xiaoli, another Taiyuan resident, said the most attractive part of the Fenhe River is the Jinyang Bridge section. Jinyang Bridge, featuring two rainbow-shaped arches, has become a landmark on the river and one of the top attractions in the city since its construction in 2019, according to Chen.
"It is especially beautiful in the evening when the lights are on and the rainbow arches are reflected on the clear water of the river," Chen said.
The resident said the site was a berth for boats to shuttle passengers across the river in ancient times. "I was told the place used to be one of the top attractions in ancient times, which was called 'evening ferries on Fenhe' by sightseers," Chen said.
She went on to say that the sight of evening ferries was just "a legend" in her childhood memories.
"Fenhe was almost a dry river decades ago. If there was some water, it stank," Chen recalled. "I couldn't imagine how a dry, dirty river was associated with a sightseeing attraction."
She said, in the past, living near the river was unpleasant, which meant few people jogged or walked along it.
Chen said changes began to take place in the late 1990s. Taiyuan launched an environmental improvement project for the river in 1998, with local authorities focusing their efforts on pollution control and increasing water supply to the river.
Fenhe was initially revitalized when water from an upper stream was continuously supplied to the water course in Taiyuan in 2000.
Efforts have since continued in 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.
Shanxi began to improve the entire river, at a length of more than 710 kilometers, in 2017. It focused on increasing the water supply and improving ecological environment.
A water diversion project starting from the Wanjiazhai Dam, on the upper reaches of the Yellow River, began to supply water to Fenhe that year. Statistics from the Shanxi Department of Water Resources show that the project has supplied more than 1.2 billion cubic meters of water to Fenhe over the past five years.
Fenhe, nurtured by the Yellow River, eventually empties itself back into the Yellow River at the village of Miaoqian in Wanrong county.
The estuary in Miaoqian is now a favored site for photographic drone operators. It features the convergence of the crystal-clear Fenhe and the yellow water of the larger river, as well as a vast span of wetland that offers habitat to a large number of birds and other animals.
The monitoring station at the estuary shows an ever-improving water quality of Fenhe year-by-year.
Since June 2020, water quality rated below class-4 has never been recorded at the station. The 2022 statistics show the rate of class-3 water quality reached 52.4 percent.
Class-4 is the standard for water that can be used by industries and class-3 is for water that can be used for irrigation and aquaculture.
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, responsible for each section of the river. They can be the head of a township, county, city or provincial government.
Shanxi's waterways are now taken care of by more than 16,000 river chiefs at village level; more than 4,000 river chiefs at township level; about 900 river chiefs at county level; and about 80 river chiefs at city level or provincial level.
In addition to improving rivers, Shanxi's recent efforts in environmental protection include greening its land and curbing soil erosion.
Niu Jianming, a forest patrol worker at the Xuegongling Nature Reserve in the eastern Shanxi city of Yangquan, has seen his role change over the past few decades.
"I used to be a worker in the Guandishan Forestry Bureau 20 years ago and logging was my job," Niu said. "When most of the hills and mountains owned by the bureau became barren, there were no trees to cut and I was afraid I would be sacked.
"Then I was assigned to the nature reserve with a mission to protect the forests. I'm happy with the change of role in my career.
"The job of planting and protecting trees is more enjoyable than cutting trees. Your hope expands with the expansion of green land, which steadily ensures your job and your benefits. The benefits to all the people involved and people in the neighborhood also grow as a result of improving the environment," Niu said.
Statistics from the Shanxi Forestry and Grassland Administration show that the province has planted 2.78 million hectares of trees since 2012. Its forest coverage reached 23.57 percent by the end of 2020, higher than the national average.
Zhang Liyuan and Guo Yanjie contributed to this story.