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Remote Hubei villages vitalized as water supply improves by Jin Ling, January 14, 2022
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Clean spring water is successfully drawn from the deep wells in high mountains in Baokang county, Xiangyang city, Hubei province. (Xinhua)

A typical karst hamlet situated at the top of a 600-m-high gorge without a stable supply of water, Liushan community, Longchi village, Changyang Tujia Autonomous County, Yichang city, Hubei province, endured seasonally- and regionally-oriented water shortages for a number of years.

Suspended pipeline spanning deep gorge quenches karst village’s thirst

Longchi Party Secretary Zhao Lihua recently stated that the community’s residents drank discolored, fish-smelling water until rainwater catchment tanks were built with the support of special policies. He also explained that reserves tended to become depleted during extended dry periods and these factors made it difficult for the locale to escape from poverty and become more prosperous.

Liushan’s inhabitants had to travel several kilometers down the gorge that the Dabutan River runs through in order to get water during dry seasons. It was determined that four pump stations would need to be built if the waterway was to be used to provide running water in the village but that construction would be very difficult and maintenance costs would be high.

A local saying that notes that “the sound of water can be heard, and it can be seen flowing, yet the people who live in the mountains worry about having enough to drink” expressed the plight that Liushan’s inhabitants were in.

Former Longchi Party secretary Liu Changqun searched for water in neighboring towns and villages and even other counties and cities for more than two decades but was unable to find a solution to the Liushan’s problem.

“We looked high and low for water across the karst landscape in our area, but we could not find a suitable source anywhere,” Longchi village committee member Wu Daoyuan recounted.

Liushan finally reached a turning point in early 2018. Wu heard about a spring that runs through a forest located in a village situated on the other side of the Dabutan River Gorge known as Zhaolaihe throughout the year.

Wu and fellow Liushan resident Tan Shiwu departed from the community at the crack of dawn the day after Lantern Festival, which fell on March 2 in 2018, in order to investigate the body of water. The two traveled to the foot of the mountains by motorcycle, spent two hours cutting through a thick layer of thorny weeds and branches with sickles near a stream running through the valley and another hour using vine ropes to climb up a 40-m-high cliff, and finally came upon a gurgling spring bubbling out of a cave.

The intrepid duo was briefly overjoyed, but their excitement soon faded when they began thinking about how to get the clean, plentiful water that they located across the wide gorge that runs between Zhaolaihe and Liushan.

Changyang’s Water Resources Department determined that a 7,500-m-long pipeline with a 1,480-m-long suspended section spanning the gorge would need to be constructed after the organization conducted several field surveys. Equipment had to be carefully transported down the Dabutan on rafts and up cliffs by workers using special equipment as a result of Liushan’s mountainous location.“I've been involved with suspended pipeline engineering for more than 30 years, and I've never encountered a suspended pipeline longer than 1,000 m,” recalled Tian Kangji, director of the village’s water supply construction project.On June 2, 2019, clean spring water began flowing through the newly constructed pipeline and into Liushan’s 305 households after almost a year of arduous labor. Beaming with delight, their members immediately ran outside to share the news and celebrate the end of their difficulties.

Longchi Party Secretary Zhao Lihua mentioned that Liushan has been focusing on orange, papaya, and tea cultivation now that water is readily available in the community and that it has gradually been pursuing beekeeping and free-range chicken, pig, and sheep farming as well. He also stated that these undertakings have made it possible for its residents to escape from poverty and become much more prosperous.

Changyang has invested 320 million yuan (more than US$49.5 million) in 1,663 centralized water supply projects, 8,029 dispersed water supply projects, and four interregional water transfer projects since 2014 in order to ensure drinking water security in its rural areas.

Deep wells provide water in karst environment

More than 70 percent karst, Baokang county, Xiangyang city, Hubei province, was considered to be bereft of groundwater until several years ago.

“More than half of the disputes in our village were related to water during dry seasons,” remarked Zhao Xianghua, Party secretary of Baokang’s Zhaojiashan village. “In the past, residents often had to fetch water from a neighboring village located more than 10 km away.”

The hamlet had been attempting to address the issue by using cofferdams to build a total of four large reservoirs over the course of several decades, beginning in the 1950s. The storage capacity of the reservoirs was poor due to the village’s geological and geomorphic characteristics, however, and the painstaking efforts that multiple generations of people made went to waste. A fifth reservoir was built in 2007, but the volume and quality of the water that it gathered were inconsistent.

Things began to change when Baokang Party Secretary Zhang Shiwei witnessed groundwater upwelling when a phosphate mine was being bored in Jiuluzhai village, another of the county’s karst hamlets, in 2017. Zhaojiashan soon drilled a 483-m-deep well after the water source was discovered, Baokang’s first on karst terrain.

Baokang entrusted Hubei’s Geological Exploration Department with conducting field surveys of 25 karst landforms in the county, which resulted in nine additional underground aquifers with suitable conditions being located. A deep well was drilled and a centralized water plant was constructed at each of them over the next few years in order to improve water supply in rural areas. Extending to a depth of 1,030 m below the surface, the well that was constructed in the village of Qiyuan is the deepest of the group and provides water for a total of more than 3,400 residents of seven villages in the area.

“Our yields have increased and our income has doubled now that our fields are properly irrigated,” noted Yang Peilin, a farmer who was able to keep more than 4.6 ha’s worth of saplings from dying during dry season after one of the projects brought a stable supply of water to his area last year.

Large-scale water supply boosts business

Shitouzui township, Yingshan county, Huanggang city, gained access to tap water a few years ago, but supply and quality were not stable.

“We often had to wait until nightfall for water to start flowing, not to mention to be able to serve our customers,” recalled Yu Xiude, the owner of a local lodging establishment located near the West River known as the Thirteenth Bend Ecological Farmstay.

The entrepreneur also explained that the water in the area used to become cloudy and developed an earthy odor after it rained, which spoiled the flavor of the food that was cooked in it.

The completion of the West River centralized water supply plant solved the problem shortly before the start of the Spring Festival celebration in February last year. The first rural drinking water upgrade project in the Dabie Mountains area, the facility also utilizes a fully automated production system.

Luo Zhibin, project manager of the company that designed the West River plant, said that it will eventually be connected to three other large-scale water supply plants in Yingshan as part of efforts to create a unified water network with the ability to serve all of the county’s urban residents and 75 percent of its rural population that will provide every customer with the “same level of quality, same sources and same service.”

“We became confident in our ability to expand our business when the water in our township became crystal clear,” added Yu, whose facilities can currently accommodate more than 60 people.

He expects that his family’s agritainment offerings will generate more than 100,000 yuan (US$15,470) of income this year.

The Huawen water supply plant in Xian’an district, Xianning city, has also benefited numerous people in the villages of Xingxing, Longxia, and Daping and the Xingxing Bamboo Sea Scenic Area in the Huawen Mountains region.

A native of the region, Chen Kai and his family did business in Shenzhen for many years in the past. He had long since been optimistic about the potential of the tourism industry in Xingxing and wanted to pursue it as well but hesitated to invest due to the ongoing water shortages that it suffered from. The entrepreneur ultimately began constructing the Chenjiagou Village Vitalization Demonstration Park when the Huawen plant came online, which led to 30 jobs being created.

Thirty-four water projects each capable of supplying an average of more than 60,000 tons of water per day have been built, renovated, or expanded in Hubei over the past five years, and a total of 287,100 rural drinking water safety projects had been completed in the province as of the end of 2020. Their efforts have resulted in tap water coverage rising to 94.7 percent in its rural areas.

Tang Jun, deputy director of Hubei’s Water Resources Department, stated that the province plans to invest 9.1 billion yuan (over US$1.4 billion) in the construction of a total of 79 rural drinking water upgrade projects scheduled to be completed by 2025 in order to improve the water supply situation for 10 million of its villagers and make the rural water supply network more efficient and its layout more methodical and scientific.