U.S. Water News Online
YINCHUAN, China -- The Yellow River, once the cradle of
Chinese civilization and the inspiration of poetry, is on the verge
of becoming a vast ditch, experts say.
All along the Yellow's 3,400-mile course through nine provinces,
its tributaries lie dry. In many places, it has been reduced to a
The drying up of China's second-longest river is changing life all
along its course. In 1972, the river ran dry before reaching the
Yellow Sea for the first time in history. In 1997, the river's lower
reaches lay dry for 227 days.
Moreover, the discharge of toxins from cities and factories has
made river water unfit for irrigation and human consumption along
much of its route.
"Only 15 percent of Yellow River water is treated, and only 20
percent is recycled," said Vaclav Smil, a professor of geography at
the University of Manitoba in Canada and an expert on China's water
A good example of the river's plight is Ningxia province. Since
the 1949 communist revolution, agricultural land irrigated by the
river in the province has expanded from 309,000 acres to 1.1 million.
Part of this land is used to grow rice, a crop that requires twice as
much water as corn or sorghum.
In Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia province in Inner Mongolia, a
Yellow River museum opened last year in an attempt to educate people
about the history of the river and the importance of water
conservation. This arid province, with 6 million inhabitants, would
be a desert without the river.
"It has only rained twice in the whole year," said a resident
standing by the river in Shizuishan, a coal-mining town in northern
Ningxia. He pointed to some simple houses on the opposite side.
"Those are new. The people moved there because their villages up in
the hills ran out of water."
All along the Yellow River, diversion and dam projects, big and
small, are in progress. There are plans for more than 10 new dams on
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