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Ecology project brings clear water, Asian Games to Zhejiang river

Xinhua| Updated: August 22, 2023 L M S

Over 40 years ago, dykes were built by hand connecting Dongzhou Island, on the Qiantang River of east China's Zhejiang Province, with the outside world. Xu Manshan, then a local teenager, offered a helping hand, throwing rocks into the river.

"The heavy work cost me several pairs of straw shoes, but I managed to carry on, even going barefoot," recalls Xu.

In 2017, the 55-year-old Xu became the person in charge of an ecological restoration project on the Beizhi River, a tributary of the Qiantang River, dismantling the dykes he helped build.

The project has enabled the once-stagnant water to flow and has significantly improved the water quality. Now, surrounded by clear water, Dongzhou Island has been designated as the site of the Fuyang Water Sports Center, a venue for rowing and canoeing competitions in the upcoming Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province.

Talking about the restoration project, Xu radiated passion, the same sentiment that motivated him to work voluntarily on building the dykes as a 15-year-old schoolboy.

The dykes once offered Dongzhou Islanders hope, as they had previously relied on ferries as their only means of transportation. Anyone traveling beyond the island "set out when roosters crowed early in the morning, and returned in lantern-lit ferries late in the night," says Xu.

In 1976, in order to solve the difficulties, the islanders decided to build dykes, which they succeeded in completing after much hard work. Thanks to the dykes, a section of the river was enclosed into an inner lake covering more than 1,700 mu (113.3 hectares), and here locals built numerous fish ponds and started fish-farming.

However, over time, the dykes that used to bring wealth became an ecological liability, as a downstream section of the Beizhi River extending 7.5 km turned stagnant after being intersected by the dykes. In addition, the blockade brought with it the risk of flooding.

In 2017, Fuyang District of Hangzhou launched the comprehensive restoration project on the Beizhi River, with the work to include replacing dykes with sluices, building bridges and dredging the river. The bid was won by Xu's employer.

"Firecrackers were set off before the dismantling of dykes by local residents, partly as a way to pay homage to late town fellows who had contributed to building them, and partly as a well-wishing for the future," says Xu.

The project has significantly improved the self-purifying capacity and navigability of the river.

Today, with Dongzhou Island as a base, the city of Hangzhou has established a vast green space open to camping enthusiasts along the north bank of the Beizhi River, with a sports park and Asian Games venues on the south bank.

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