China's third longest river, the Huaihe, will resume flowing directly into the sea later this year, ending its notorious 800-year history of frequent flooding.
A 164-kilometre waterway will be completed towards the end of the year and the river will no longer empty into the country's longest river, the Yangtze.
Instead, it will be diverted mainly into the Yellow Sea by a new waterway.
Historical data shows that in 1194 the Yellow River changed its course and flowed over the lower reaches of the Huaihe, reshaping the topography of the Huaihe River Valley. The Yellow's changed course resulted in far more frequent obstruction and flooding of the Huaihe.
Cao Weimin, director of the Huaihe Waterway Construction Administration, said yesterday that the new channel will not only enable the Huaihe to withstand a once-a-century type of flood, but will also go some way to reducing flooding of the Yangtze.
The digging of the channel began in 1998 at a cost of 4.2 billion yuan (US$506 million).
The project is of special social, economic and environmental significance to China since the people in many areas along the Huaihe River Valley have long been troubled by floods, Cao said.
"It is one of China's major achievements in improving the environment and maintaining sustainable development," Cao said, referring to the success in bringing down the silt levels of the Yangtze for the first time in 50 years and making water flow again along the entire Tarim River in Xinjiang in Northwest China, 30 years after its lower reaches had dried up.
More than 60,000 farmers have had to give up their homes to make way for the new channel. One of them, Wang Jiasheng, who has lived in the river valley for more than 60 years, moved into his new residence by the waterway yesterday.
"Huaihe floods have always worried us. The river washed away my house about 20 times," Wang said. "Now I'm relieved, at last."
The 1,100-kilometre-long Huaihe is located between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.
The Huaihe River Valley covers Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces, where there is a population of about 150 million.
Some 18 percent of China's grain and 15 percent of its coal are produced in the valley.
The Beijing-Guangzhou, Beijing-Kowloon and Beijing-Shanghai railways, all transport arteries, run through the valley.
Soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the late Chairman Mao Zedong issued the call that "it is imperative to harness the Huaihe River," making the Huaihe the country's first big river to be controlled.
The Chinese Government has since spent more than 40 billion yuan (US$4.81 billion) on many water conservancy projects along the river, including constructing 2,100 kilometers of canals which combined are 11 times longer than the Suez Canal.
However, the river still overflows its banks during major flooding events.
Digging a waterway linking the river with the sea is considered by experts to be the only way out.
The new channel, built south of the old channel, meets the Huaihe and flows eastward into the Yellow Sea.
The waterway, 750 meters wide and four meters deep, is designed to discharge as much as 26,000 cubic meters of floodwater per second.
"That is sufficient for a smooth drainage of flood water from the Huaihe," said Wang Yutai, chief engineer of the Huaihe River Water Resources Committee.
Wang said although the construction of the waterway has brought inconvenience to local people, it will not produce any other negative impact.
(Xinhua News Agency July 24, 2002)