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Dike builder dismantles own work to restore ecology

China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-06 09:07

The Fuyang Water Sports Center, a venue for the rowing and canoeing competitions in the upcoming Asian Games that will be held in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province. [File photo/hangzhou.gov.cn]

HANGZHOU — Over 40 years ago, dikes were built by hand to connect Dongzhou Island, on the Qiantang River of Zhejiang province, with the outside world. Xu Manshan, then a teenager, offered a helping hand by carrying rocks into the river.

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

In 2017, the 55-year-old was put in charge of an ecological restoration project on the Beizhi River, a tributary of the Qiantang, dismantling the dikes 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 has been designated as the site of the Fuyang Water Sports Center, a venue for the rowing and canoeing competitions in the upcoming Asian Games that will be held in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province.

While talking about the restoration project, Xu radiated passion, the same sentiment that motivated him to work voluntarily on building the dikes as a 15-year-old boy.

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

To solve the problem, the islanders decided to build dikes in 1976, succeeding after a great deal of effort. Thanks to the dikes, a section of the river was enclosed into an inner lake covering more than 113.3 hectares. There, locals built numerous ponds and started fish farming.

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

In 2017, Hangzhou's Fuyang district launched the comprehensive restoration project on the Beizhi, with tasks including replacing dikes with sluices, building bridges and dredging the river. The bid was won by Xu's employer.

"Firecrackers were set off before the dismantling of dikes by local residents, partly as a way to pay homage to those who had contributed to building them, and partly as a way to wish them well in the future," Xu said.

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

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


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