Yellow River Decade (3) Tour of the Yellow River Wetlands
Reported by: Wang Lina, Wang Yongchen
It is a beautiful day on August 14.
Early in the morning, Cui Sheng, a member of the Henan Province “Friends of Nature” group joins us as a guide along with other volunteers and reporters from the Yellow River Museum and the Zhengzhou Dahe Newspaper. Our destination today is the Yellow River Wetland Nature Reserve Management Center, which is run by the Yellow River-Wetland Aalliance and located in the Taohua Valley of Mengjin County.
Our first stop is the Zhengzhou Management Station for the Wetlands Nature Reserve on the Yellow River. The chief of the management station, Wang Huanrui, gives us a basic introduction of the Yellow River Wetlands.
The features of Zhengzhou Yellow River Wetland Nature Reserve
The Yellow River Wetland is a natural river wetland or natural ecosystem. As a partially developed wetland in the northern part of Zhengzhou, the Zhengzhou Yellow River Wetland is situated along the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, in the central plains, and is the backyard for the city of Zhengzhou. “The Cities that have wetlands are beautiful and the people who are able to enjoy the unique bird watching are blessed,” Chief Wang told us proudly. “The wetlands are rich in animal and plant resources and have the added ability to purify water and intercept pollutants.
The overview of Zhengzhou Yellow River Wetlands
There are only eight Migratory channels in the world, and three are located in China, including the Zhengzhou Wetlands. Eleven kinds of A-level protected birds can be viewed here, including the Great Buzzard, Black Stork, White Stork, and Red-Crowned Crane. The best season for bird watching is November but a bird lover like Chief Wang goes to the Wetlands anytime the weather cooperates. He has taken pictures of many famous birds and organized them into calendars, posters and display panels to help advocate wetland protection. In recent years, one is very lucky just to see the Great Buzzards but Chief Wang is extremely lucky to have pictures of the Buzzards spreading their wings and flying.
Protection efforts in the Zhengzhou Yellow River Wetland have received great support from the local government. The management station provides many opportunities for the community to advocate for wetland protection. Many boundary markers have also been built around the wetlands to designate the area’s special protection. In addition, a special police unit has been set up to severely punish illegal poachers in the Nature Reserve.
However, wetland protection still faces many challenges. The dense population here creates more and more pressure to utilize the wetlands for farming. Animal and bird hunting are also an important source of income for many local people, so illegal hunting is still prevalent in the Nature Reserve.
Chief Wang showed us a picture with a policeman on one side holding two dead rare birds and on the other side a farmer crouched on the ground in handcuffs. While we are condemn illegal hunting should we not also consider providing some compensation for the residents living near the nature reserve for the lack of hunting grounds land at the same time as we protect the birds? Perhaps then even more local people would become protectors of the Wetlands instead of enemies.
Before leaving the management station, we found an amplified picture of the Wetlands on the wall. Chief Wang told us that this area had been completely destroyed when the camera crew of “Water Margin” was shooting there. The film crew recklessly set up tents and let their horses graze the wetland vegetation. Ning Tiantian, the reporter from the Zhengzhou Dahe Newspaper said that the paper immediately reported the incident as the front-page news.
We reached the Huayuan Mouth on our next stop. The Huayuan Mouth is not only a symbol of national disaster, but also the location of the largest Yellow River hydrological station.
During the Sino-Japanese War the Kuomintang Army blew up the dam here, to stop the Japanese from moving South, causing many divisions in the Yellow River. Limited by the warning systems of the time, the change inundated 38 towns with floodwaters and more than 80 million people suffered in the disaster.
We are lucky today to see a spectacular view of the Yellow River. Cui Sheng told us that since the building of Xiaolangdi Reservoir, the upstream waters flooded less and less. The water flux we see now is the largest in the past ten years, in which the width of the water surface is at most only about thirty meters. Cui Sheng believes that it is better to let the water make its own path and that dams should not be constructed along the Yellow River.
Qi Pu, the senior engineer of the Yellow River Water Resources Research Institute holds a different view. He thinks that man-made flood peak can be built in Xiaolangdi Reservoir for sediment disposition. In fact, the water level in the Huayuan Mouth is now over 10 meters lower than before.
From this point, the debate about what is best for the Xiaolangdi Reservoir escalates and further triggers our discussion about man and nature back on the bus.
Let us look at the subtle relationship between man and nature.
Our ancestors chopped down almost all of the forest on the Loess Plateau. The deforestation allowed much of the topsoil to be washed away into the Yellow River by the rains. As a result the Yellow River is nearly the largest sediment filled river in the world today. As it reaches the downstream region, the River slows and is barley able to carry sediment. The River has become known as the “Hanging River”. As the “Hanging River” easily overflows its banks, creating diversions and causing floods, the Yellow River has also been named “the River of Disaster” by many people. In order to control the disasters, people have built dams, reservoirs, and power stations. However, these man-made projects have not provided adequate solutions to the river siltation problems. Although the drying up of the Yellow River has slowed down, the loss of water in some river branches still occurs often. The problems facing the Yellow River today are the direct consequences of both our ancestors’ actions and our lack of knowledge about rivers and lakes.
Many people do not believe that nature will lash back at humans because of her mercy. Sometimes nature can endure our behavior for a very long time, but one day when she cannot bear it any more, our descendants will be the victims.
Regarding the issue of “river training”, experts with different opinions divide up into three “camps” during our “coach class”.
Qi Pu, from the Hydraulic Research Institute, believes that science will be able to tame the Yellow River. He has been proposing the idea of achieving efficient sediment transport through the use of flood peaks, but it has not been well accepted, leaving him deeply worried.
Cui Sheng from the Henan team of the “Friends of Nature”, Wang Yongchen from Green Earth Volunteers, Zhao Lianshi from the Association for Science and Expedition and Wang Jian, a water-ecologist, believe that nature has its laws and man should abide by them. Wang Jian compares this to the rule that laws that apply only to a small scale must obey those applying to a larger scale. In an age looking to science and technology as the primary problem solving forces, how can his voice move to the mainstream from the edge?
You Lianyuan, from Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, maintains that the belief that man can conquer nature is problematic. He believes conscientious scientific research, mock experiments, detailed statistics and thorough understanding of nature are necessary before engineering treatment. The major quarrel here appears to be between the party favouring the river training and the party in support of complying with the laws of nature absolutly.
The discussion lasts until our arrival at Taohuayu, our next destination. Judging from the name, the place must have been full of peach blossoms on the mountains. Now it has been reforested by herbs. Taohuayu is the boundary of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, which takes a sharp turn here.
You Lianyuan tells us that the place we’re standing on is called Mangshan, which stretches from Xiaolangdi to the southern bank of the Yellow River where the Beijing-Guangdong railway passes through. In ancient times the Yellow River used to flow through it. The Mangshan Mountain restrains the right bank of the river to some degree, but its left bank is still drifting. Therefore, although the Yellow River is meandering from Mengjin, this part of it remains relatively stable.
Qi Pu tells us that in the 1950s and 1960s, the riverbed here was wide, shallow and sprawling, with sandbars here and there. Today, after treatment, a normalized river course has been formed.
Faced with this great River, which seems calm but is indeed turbulent, I think about how we can take control of it. We can temporarily bring it under control with all kinds of advanced technologies, but this does not mean we can control it forever. The natural ecosystem is too delicate, dwarfing the technology of humans. The predicament faced by many hydropower stations is the best proof of this. To every one of us, this “Ten Years Traveling along the Yellow River” trip is an opportunity not only for research but also for thinking.
After leaving Taohuayu, we pass through Du Fu’s hometown, which is near the Yiluo River, at the foot of the Mangshan Mountain, and then rush on to our next destination, the town of Huimeng in Mengjin County. The town owes its name to the history of King Wu of Zhou who summoned about 800 dukes there to crusade against King Zhou of Shang.
From Mengjin, the sand begins to silt up the Yellow River. The river course also starts wandering, a vast wetland in the middle reaches of the River. According to the staff of the local wetland nature reserve, the Xiaolangdi project diverted water and sand not too long ago, which resulted in the heavy water flow and murky water. If we had come here in winter, we would have found the water crystal-clear.
After the construction of the Xiaolangdi Project is completed, the diversions of water and sand by the Xiaolangdi Project will increase the water flow, supply the wetland with water, breed wetland vegetation and create a good environment for birds to perch and migrate. However, increases in water flow may also submerge the birds’ eggs and thus affect their reproduction, since some birds lay their eggs on sandbars in the River.
During the trip various voices converge in our “coach class”. The only voice missing is that of the farmers who have lived along the Yellow River for generation after generation. Their voices should be the last to be overlooked. At dusk, we interviewed a local villager on the River bank. The villager, whose name is Lu Jingzhuo, told us that his family has lived there for many generations. Their income mainly comes from growing crops. They usually plant corn and when the soil salination becomes serious, they have to grow rice. The village here has a large population and limited farmland (about 333 square meters of farmland per capita). Therefore, most young people leave the village to seek jobs.
When asked whether the Yellow River is beneficial or not, Lu answered that it is certainly beneficial to them. The River can irrigate the farmlands and grow rice more delicious than rice watered by any other river.
Lu said the River floods much less than ever before when he was asked about the differences between the Yellow River during his childhood and the River at present. He told us that thanks to the Xiaolangdi Project, the river course has become stable. According to him, the only disadvantage is that he can no longer scoop coal from it. In the past, the Yellow River carried coal with it and scooping just one day would bring him enough coals for a whole year.
At sunset, villagers, including the young women and wives, come in twos and threes to take walks, walk the dogs along the River or watch the sunset on the riverbank. City dwellers would envy greatly the carefree life here. What is happiness? At that moment, we, as “city dwellers” in our “Ten Years Traveling along the Yellow River” group, were asking this question.
Tomorrow, we will reach the site of the Xiaolangdi Water Control Project.
Translator: Ding Jieqiong; Yang Wenlong
Proofreader: Annie Geratowski