The Huaihe River, China's third longest, resumed flowing directly into the sea through a man-made waterway on Saturday, after being deprived of its access to the Bohai Sea for about 800 years.
When the sluice gate slowly opened at 11:30 Saturday, the Huaihe River surged eastward, emptying into the Yellow Sea.
A ceremony was held Saturday morning to mark the occasion. Officials from the Ministry of Water Resources and other central government departments joined tens of thousands of people in the celebration held in Binhai County, Jiangsu Province, amid deafening banging of gongs and drums.
The project, built at a cost of nearly 4.2 billion yuan (507 million US dollars) from the government, was completed four years ahead of schedule.
The newly-dug waterway originates in the Hongze Lake and flows eastward, emptying into the Yellow Sea, with a total length of 163.5 km. The 750-meter-wide waterway makes it possible for the Huaihe River to flow into the Sea as it did before.
The project is key to preventing floods on the scale seen every 100 years and benefits 150 million residents living on both banks of the river, said Lu Zhenlin, director of the Jiangsu Provincial Department of Water Resources.
Approximately 60,000 people living on or near the construction site were evacuated from their ancestral homes and settled in fertile areas.
The Huaihe River runs 1,000 km with a river valley of 270,000 sq. km. As the Yellow River deviated from its original course and began to flow over the lower reaches of the Huaihe River, it forced the Huaihe River to flow into the Hongze Lake. As a result, the Huaihe River experienced frequent blockage and became highly prone to flooding.
According to official statistics, the Huaihe River has seen more than 100 severe floods over the past 200 years. Each flood inundated over 1,000 towns and counties, leaving tens of millions homeless.
Zhu Guangqiang, an elderly farmer living on the bank of the Huaihe River in Jiangsu Province, recalled that his home had been flooded twice in every three years and that his family lived in poverty. "The new waterway has reassured my fellow villagers and me that it is safe to build new homes," he said.
As one of China's leading grain and coal producers, the Huaihe River valley turns out 18 percent of China's grain and 15 percent of coal. The country's three railway arteries, which link Beijing with Guangzhou, Kowloon and Shanghai, run through the river valley.
Soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, late Chairman Mao Zedong said "It is imperative to harness the Huaihe River," making Huaihe the country's first big river to be controlled. Over the past four decades, the Chinese government has invested 40 billion yuan (4.83 billion dollars) to build a variety of reservoirs and 10,000 sluice gates. The total length of man-made canals is roughly 10 times that of the Suez Canal.
Despite this, the river still overflows its banks at its bends during major flood periods. The digging of the waterway linking the river with the sea is considered by experts as the key way out.
Construction of the waterway, built 10 km south of the old channel of Huaihe, commenced in 1998. It runs parallel to the irrigation canal built in the early 1950s in the northern part of Jiangsu Province.
The new waterway runs through a specially-designed elevated culvert with a flood drainage capacity of 26,000 cubic meters per second. The waterway will aid in irrigation, shipping and aquiculture. A number of sewage disposal plants are being built along the waterway.
(Xinhua News Agency June 28, 2003)