Innovation Brings New Life to the Liangshui River
After two phases of a new project, Liangshui River has regained its reputation as a clean and pleasant river.
The winding Liangshui River runs through seven of Beijing's districts and has a total length of about 68 kilometres (km). Like a traditional Chinese ink painting, it integrates humans and nature, bringing the smooth fields of the countryside into a city of reinforced concrete. In the spring, flowers bloom along the shores; in summertime, it brings cool to people of the city; in the autumn, there is colourful foliage to enjoy; in winter, snow turns the riverside into a fairy tale world.
Since ancient times, the river has been closely related to the lives of the city's residents, serving their needs for water transportation, drainage and irrigation. In the old days, the clear river with flourishing reeds on its sides attracted many waterfowl and was considered a paradise in which children could play.
Because of recent innovations, the river is showing its splendour again. In 2014, the “Comprehensive Environmental Improvement for Liangshui River Project” began. The project, with new ideas, new technologies and using a combination of public and private capital, has encouraged public participation in improving the river. After two phases of the project, the “Mother River” of residents who live in the south part of Beijing has thrown off its once bad reputation for being dirty and foul-smelling. Residents can now relax, walk on the fitness trail, read books in the waterfront pavilions or exercise along the riverside. Calm water, a harmonious atmosphere, and attractions with ancient and modern elements enliven residents' lives and nourish the city.
Displaying Landscapes with Beauty Similar to the Yangtze River Delta
A resident who lives along the river's Yizhuang section said, “I am delighted when I see the great improvement of the river's water quality. After the comprehensive improvement, the water is so clear that aquatic plants in the river look like silk that is floating with the current. It is really beautiful!”
Just a few years ago, the river's dirty, polluted water and offensive odour annoyed people who worked and lived along its sides. However, after improving the water quality, the river now runs clear. The forest park and green paths near and along the river's Yizhuang Section have become good venues in which the public can enjoy some leisure time.
People who work and live along the river's sections in Xicheng, Fengtai, Tongzhou, Shijingshan and Chaoyang districts share the same feeling about the improved water quality and its nearby environment. They want to hold onto images of the autumn days that have just passed: the water mirroring the glowing colours around the river, people catching water fleas along the riversides, a sense of leisurely life like that of a Yangtze River Delta water town; egrets flying by, bringing a sense of vitality to the green forests; and blooming chrysanthemums with a wild beauty that can last till the end of October, whose rich colour is reflected in peaceful water to constitute a simple and idyllic world.
Residents who live along the river witnessed its entire period of being cleaned and know the success of the project was a hard-won victory. When seeing the river's present-day beauty, they will not forget the beginning of its huge change from the spring of 2014. One city dweller who lives nearby said in a sort of lyrical way: “Liangshui River, you surprise me as you really changed. In spring you were improved,” she said, referring to the repair of the embankment, “and now how beautiful you are. You are cleaned and no longer a dirty gutter in my memory!”
The source of Liangshui River is a waterway from Shougang Group (a major steelmaking enterprise) a waste water treatment plant in Shijingshan District. The river flows through Haidian, Xicheng, Fengtai, Daxing, Chaoyang and Tongzhou districts. It meets the north section of the Grand Canal at Yulinzhuang in Tongzhou District. In 2014, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River that is responsible for managing the river began to carry out a project for the river's comprehensive environmental improvement. The scope of the project covered the entire river and was divided into two phases. Phase One began in April 2014 and was completed in June 2015, with a total investment of 387 million yuan. The main tasks included
31.07 km of dredging from the culvert of the Beijing West Railway Station in Xicheng District to Majuqiao Watergate in Tongzhou District and a 39.5 km ecological protection area from Renminqu in Haidian District to Majuqiao Watergate in Tongzhou District. It included ecological protection for embankments, platforms for decontamination, waterscapes and steps over water, as well as two places using biological technologies for deodorisation and four places with ionic deodorisation. Phase One also included a sub-project on a 770-metre (m) section from Majiapu Donglu (East Road) to Macaohe, encompassing ecological restoration of its main waterway, bottomlands, embankments, riverside paths and waterside ramps. Additionally, facilities for water games as well as facilities for the river's management were developed.
The Phase Two began in the spring of 2018 and is expected to be completed before the rainy season of 2019. The main components of the project include: the greening and upgrading of gardening landscapes and service facilities in the section from Caihuying in Fengtai District to Majuqiao Watergate in Tongzhou District; providing power supply and illumination as well as developing garden landscapes from Caihuying Nanlu (South Road) to the city's South Ring Road; dredging a 10 m × 30 m section around Dachengqiao in Chaoyang District to connect upstream and downstream then carrying out ecological restoration for the slopes of the dredged section.
Li Yan, chief engineer of the Administrative Office of Liangshui River said: “The first phase of the river's comprehensive improvement was carried out from 2014 to 2015 and its second phase began in 2018. Its main tasks will be completed at the end of 2018. The first phase carried out waterway dredging, which is known in technical terms as ‘underwater construction. We also grew willows along the river from Renminqu to Majuqiao Watergate and built six deodorisation facilities. Moreover, after completing the river's Yangqiao Section, we took that as a model for our other engineering work. The second phase needed to improve illumination and green slopes of the river according to the needs of residents who live nearby. We added more plants along the slopes to protect against erosion, and we developed paths so that residents can take a walk there. From 2015 to 2017, between the first and second phases, we improved water quality and implemented ecological restoration.”
The Beijing Liao and Jin Dynasty City Wall Museum is located by the river, 600 m east of the Administrative Office of the Liangshui River. It was built on the site of the largest ancient water gate ruins from any of the ancient capitals of China. The ruins played a role in locating Zhongdu (the Middle Capital, Beijing) of the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234) and in studying buildings and water conservancy facilities in ancient China. Nanshuitou Village around Youanmenwai was once the source of the river, 2 km from west of what is now the Administrative Office of Liangshui River. In 1773, the river was dredged. A poem about the river by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty is included in Rixia jiuwenkao (a book about the history of Beijing during the Qing Dynasty [1644 –1911]), and reads, “The source of the river is Fengquan (“Phoenix Spring”), southwest of Youanmen. The river runs east and passes Wanquan Temple; in east of Yongshengqiao, it runs south and then east along the walls of Nanyuan (an area for imperial hunting in ancient times); in Xiaohongmen, it runs into Nanyuan and southeast to Lujuan Village passing by Shadiqiao; it runs through Majuqiao and into north section of the Grand Canal at Zhangjiawan in Tongzhou.” Fengquan disappeared long ago, but after the comprehensive improvement, new attractions, such as parks for water games, have been developed along the river.
According to chief engineer Li Yan, residents who live along the river by its completed Yangqiao Section have a good place for water games. On summer evenings, many people enjoy themselves by taking a walk, fishing, flying kites and playing parent-child games along the shore. Other sections have been completed, such as Yangqiao Section, which features landscaped gardens suitable for surrounding residents' leisure, Guangcaiqiao Section with wetlands and aquatic plants, Jiugong Section with colourful paths and Tongzhou Section with picturesque views.
After the dredging and ecological protection of the river, it is now clean. The river's comprehensive improvement has realised the project's goals of ”greening” the riverside, improving
its safety and increasing its comfort by providing ecological restoration, developing gardening landscapes, providing illumination and creating service facilities in addition to renovating slopes, embankments and trails along the riverside. After the completion of the project and a period of ecological protection, the river will be a vital place, with various species of plants, convenient facilities and cultural resources, creating a green world shared by the public, playing a role in improving river restoration in Beijing and even in other parts of the country.
Utilising Innovative Technologies
Good tools are a prerequisite to the successful execution of a job. The river's comprehensive improvement not only needed overall planning, skilled management and careful construction, but also introduction of advanced operating tools to achieve higher efficiency, save costs and reduce impact on the nearby environment.
Before the winter of 2018, two dredging ships worked for four months on the river. During that period, a10-km waterway from Jiugong to Yizhuang was cleaned. In the type of cleaning procedure that was used, as a ship moves slowly down the river, a box-shaped piece of equipment is inserted into the water and begins to suck sludge out of the riverbed into the ship. The sludge and water are continuously agitated in the ship until organic and inorganic matter is gradually separated. Finally, agents are added for further precipitation. Gravel that has become clean is returned to the same area of the river bottom. Sludge that is rich in organic matter, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, is filtered out and stored separately. After being treated by the dredging ships, sludge changes from dark grey to yellowish brown and the water becomes clear. Compared with other machines, the dredging ship with this new technology can reduce the amount of sludge that needs to be shipped away by 98 percent and avoid damage to aquatic plants and animals. Monitoring data from a third-party agency shows the amount of organic matter in the sludge was reduced by 97 percent while nitrogen and phosphorus were reduced by 68 percent and 23 percent respectively. A large dredging ship can clean about 1,000 sq.m of sludge per day, and in the river's shallow water level, a small dredging ship can work well.
When asked about the technology, Li Yan explained that in April 2016, the Beijing Water Authority investigated a water resource treatment project for Beidaihe National Wetland Park in Hebei Province which was designed and carried out by the Hefei Institute of Physical Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Lake Environment Technology Company. The Beijing Water Authority spoke highly of the sludge cleaning technology that had been used and could rapidly reduce endogenous pollution in the water body, effectively controlling pollutants that make water dark and foul-smelling, in addition to restoring the water quality in a short time. Yu Zengliang, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Sciences was invited to investigate Liangshui River and put forward three sludge-cleaning measures. The Administrative Office of Liangshui River studied a technical report from Lake Company and decided to carry out a pilot project of cleaning sludge to control pollution in the river's Jiugong Section, which, after obtaining detailed results data, would be good preparation for the river's comprehensive improvement. In midJuly of 2016, the pilot project for cleaning sludge near Nansihuanqiao was completed. Sludge pollution was effectively removed, a stable mud-water interface was formed and water quality was noticeably improved, providing a favourable condition for the restoration of aquatic plants. The results of the pilot project played a major role in the decision to use this sludge-cleaning technology to carry out the water quality improvement project along the entire river.
Liangshui River is Beijing's first river using the new type of dredging ship for its water treatment. The ship has served on the river for three years and achieved the desired results. Li Yan explained: “Old dredging machines could also remove pollutants from sludge, but the amount of removed pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, usually accounted for only a few parts per 10,000 or a few thousandths. Moreover, most of removed matter was harmless silt or river bed organisms. If the large amount of removed sludge is not effectively disposed of and utilised, its transportation and storage will bring a range of problems and can cause secondary pollution. Additionally, dredging creates a large disturbance in a water body and has a huge impact on water ecology, so it will take a long time to restore the diversity of river bed organisms. Comparatively speaking, this kind of dredging is a mild, in-situ disposal technology and only removes organic matter, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and other fine particulate pollutants, from the water. The cleaned sludge will be replaced to
cover the river bottom to form a stable mudwater interface, improve the transparency of the water body and created the right light conditions for growth of aquatic plants. As a result, the technology will improve the river's water quality, turning it from polluted to stable, clear and containing aquatic plants. In addition, dredging sludge to remove its pollutants can greatly reduce the amount of polluted sludge and cost of post-treatment.”
Results show the efficacy of this type of dredging. The river's 10 km Jiugong Section has been greatly improved, showing “clear water with fish and trees on either side.” It has become a good location for fishing. According to test parameters, the river's water quality has changed from Grade V to Grade III-IV and the coverage of aquatic plants on some riverbeds now reaches more than 70 percent. After controlling pollution from foreign sources, cleaning water, cleaning the sludge and adjusting eutrophication, nutrients in river bottom sediment have reached a balance. Additionally, as the water became cleaner, photosynthesis increased and more than 10 original species of submerged, free-floating aquatic plants, such as sago pondweeds, hydrillas, Eurasian water milfoils and hornworts, began to grow again. Aquatic animals, such as shrimp and small freshwater fish like loaches, are also gradually re- emerging. The river is now stable due to its increasing biodiversity. In the future, the dredging ships that have worked so well along Liangshui River will also operate in the south section of the city's moat and the north section of the Grand Canal to improve the water quality there and safeguard Beijing's water resources.
Introducing a New Model
From September 2004 to December 2006, Liangshui River implemented a water treatment project. Water quality, flood control and ecological environment along the river were temporarily improved, but after the project, water quality was unstable. Unlike this, the comprehensive improvement project launched in 2014 has led to more long-term enhancement of water quality. Perhaps the better result is because the 2014 project launched by the Beijing Water Authority and Beijing Enterprises Group Company Limited (BG) has been carried out using the combination of public and private capital.
“We (the Administrative Office of Liangshui River) began to cooperate with BG in 2013 based on this model. At that time, the government encouraged beginning to use a combination of public and private funding to deal with issues in public services. The Beijing Water Authority and BG entered into a framework agreement to select two rivers as a pilot and Liangshui River was one of them,” said Yang Liying, an official from the Administrative Office of Liangshui River. “After the signing of the agreement, the river's comprehensive improvement project started. The Beijing Water Authority authorised the Administrative Office of Liangshui River to supervise and carry out the project. The first and second phases of the project were near the upper reaches of Majuqiao. Another framework agreement using the model was signed between BG and the People's Government of Tongzhou District because parts of the project covered areas of Majuqiao which are located within Tongzhou. The 68 km river began to be improved.”
In recent years, the water quality environment of Liangshui River has greatly improved. During this period, the project not only has paid attention to the improvement in the river, but also has focused on the environment around the river at the same time, such as shutting down sewage pipelines that discharged waste water into the river, renovating slopes, expanding recycled water plants, providing urban and rural sewage emergency responses, controlling industrial and agricultural wastes and other daily management.
A great benefit of using the combination of public and private capital is that it facilitates integrated planning and management of the water quality improvement project. Yang Liying said: “In the past we thought we just needed to deal with existing problems when we improved the river's quality. For example, we just carried out dredging or greening work, which did not bring about a comprehensive improvement in the river. In 2014, our idea changed and began to reflect a comprehensive improvement, covering all the problems affecting water quality. The water body, slopes and places near the river are all considered. The problems included dirty water and odour that impacted nearby residents, entire slopes with poor water retention and low- quality landscape gardening along the river. We needed to take ecological measures to improve water quality in stages after we fully considered
problems that affected the river. That was a new idea we had when we began to cooperate with BG.”
Along with new ideas for improving the river, new technologies have been introduced. On slopes along the Yangqiao Section, plants with soil fixing functions are grown. One example of this is the willow tree. People seldom think about the role trees play in improving the river slopes or water quality when they see willows along the riverside. However, the trees' root system can help fix soil in place and absorb pollutants from the water. Willows need to be pruned two times a year, and this pruning equals removing pollutants. As willows can grow back again without any human aid, planting this type of tree is a good way of purifying water quality in the long term.
Excavating deep pits for dredging sludge in the river is another new technology now being used during the river's comprehensive improvement. In the past, using machines to dredge the river was expensive, took a long time and possibly caused new pollution. When improving Liangshui River's water quality, deep pits for dredging sludge have been excavated in five locations. Sludge will flow into the deep pits with the current. According to the amount of sludge that has been deposited, the pits are dredged once a year. This technology is more convenient and only requires the dredging of each pit, efficiently reducing impact on the entire waterway.
“In the project based on the combination public and private capital model, the Beijing Water Authority represents the government and BG represents private capital. During the cooperation, on behalf of the Beijing Water Authority, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River conducted daily supervision of the project. BG'S advantage is it can provide advanced management experience and technologies,” Yang said. “We needed to cooperate with designers, superintendents and construction units when carrying out projects in the past, but now we have a one-stop service. BG is fully responsible for the project. The Administrative Office of Liangshui River is just a supervisor. Our supervision is comprehensive and covers the entire project. It includes supervising the construction schedule, quality and safety, and participating in the project's inspection and approval. After the project is approved, we are responsible for supervision of its long-term maintenance. We will conduct a satisfaction survey and supervise various parties' performance.”
The river's comprehensive improvement has been carried out for five years based on this model. As a supervisor, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River made a periodic summary about the
project: This model of implementing the project has saved manpower and material resources; BG has played a role in improving all aspects of the project's work efficiency, and the administrative office has also gained advanced experience and managerial ideas during the project of improving the river.
Serving as a Shift River Chief
Serving as a shift river chief is now a major feature of the administration of Liangshui River because of the shift to the combination public and private capital, in which the general public also participates in maintaining river water quality. In accordance with a document issued by the Chinese government on December 11, 2016 about launching the river chief system across the country, governments at all levels have focused on and have beguan to implement it.
As part of this programme, every morning along the river's Youanmen Section, elderly or young volunteers who wear green waistcoats and armbands begin their daily river inspection tour. They pick up a variety of discarded waste, such as plastic bags and drink bottles, and put them in their garbage collection bags, plus encourage passersby to learn about public participation for environmental protection. Volunteers need in make inspection tours every day in designated areas within designated times. They need to report and handle problems as soon as possible after finding them. If they are unable to deal with the problems they find, they need to report them to an online supervisory platform administrated by government agencies. In short, shift river chief volunteers' responsibilities can be summed up as “three observations and five reports.”“three observations” means they must observe if there are any suspects who want to damage the river and its surrounding environment, if there are any situations that will cause major pollution incidents and if there are any public facilities that do not work. “Five reports” means volunteers must report water pollution, public security issues, environmental pollution, major sources of hidden danger, and illegal activities to the corresponding government agencies. At each quarterly joint meeting, the shift river chiefs sum up their work, accept new tasks and coordinate with each other to ensure the healthy ecological environment of the river. They have developed an online platform to manage reported information, conduct coordination between various parties, deal with problems and collect feedback, which helps government agencies implement post-supervision and form a long-term mechanism for maintaining the programme.
“We are retired, but we have the opportunity to work together because we voluntarily serve as shift river chiefs. We are willing to do things for our home because we love it,” said Zhou Ying, who serves as a shift river chief of the volunteer inspection tour group along the river's Youanmen Section. “Therefore, increasing numbers of residents have become volunteers and joined us. We are proud of what we are doing now.”
‘‘Serving as a shift river chief is a major feature of the administration of Liangshui
River. The administrative office and the local governments worked together to develop the system,” chief engineer Li Yan explained. “Serving as a shift river chief not only supports, but also supervises the administrative office. For example, they can give us good suggestions from residents. The system reflects the government service capacity and encourages public participation, forming common governance for the river administration by the government and the public.”
The serving as a shift river chief system was first implemented in Fengtai District, with Youanmen and Xiluoyuan sub-districts being chosen as its pilot areas. On September 9, 2017, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River held a meeting about the river chief system for the Fengtai District Section, focusing on setting up a community-level management system to carry out river management and decide innovative methods of volunteer participation. The Youanmen Sub-district established the “Dou Zhen Volunteer Association” to implement environmental protection along the river through daily inspection tours. Xiluoyuan Sub-district formulated a work plan to implement the river chief system at sub-district and community levels according to the area's local conditions. They also worked out a plan to require relevant officials from the sub-district office and communities under its jurisdiction to serve as shift river chiefs in the area and set up river inspection tour groups. After the implementation of “serving as a shift river chief” in Fengtai District, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River directed the establishment of the system in Xicheng and Shijingshan districts as well.
The shift river chief system has developed greatly since its inception. For instance, Chaoyang District has set up a children's programme in which youngsters visit flood control water gates and areas along the river, enabling them to join in water protection. This programme encourages young people to learn about the river's history and its present, love the environment, cherish water resources and contribute their own efforts to the city's water quality improvement.
As of November 10, 2018, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River received 83 complaints and recommendations from shift river chiefs. All of them have been resolved. For example, on November 9, Xiluoyuan SubDistrict Office reported there were too many piled ashes around paths along the river's Yangqiao Section due to local residents who burned sacrifices to ancestors on the 1st day of the 10th lunar month according to a traditional Chinese custom. After receiving the report, the Administrative Office of Liangshui River coordinated with a cleaning company, which dispatched its staff members to clean up the ashes before the noon of the same day. This quick response won the plaudits of the public.
The Yangqiao Secion of Liangshui River
A dredging ship operates along a section of Liangshui River.
Aquatic plants along the Shanhuqiao Section of the river
The Guangcaiqiao Section of Liangshui River features wetlands and aquatic plants.
Volunteers along the Yangqiao Section make inspection tours to promote environmental protection.