Ships sail past a lock and head for the Huaihe River on the Yangtze-Huaihe Grand Canal in Hefei, Anhui province, as the canal opens on Wednesday. (HUANG YANGYANG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Anhui project joins two major rivers, improves shipping efficiency
A milestone was reached in Anhui on Wednesday, as trial operations started on the Yangtze-Huaihe Grand Canal, a significant undertaking by authorities in the eastern province that is expected to increase the efficiency of shipping on the two major rivers.
Veteran sailor Li Shuqing arrived at a wharf in Hefei, capital of Anhui, aboard his cargo ship on Wednesday after traveling through the new canal. His ship was carrying about 1,000 metric tons of wheat from Huaian, a city in neighboring Jiangsu province.
"With this section starting trial operations, it will be much more convenient for my business in the future," he said.
The canal connects China's longest river, the Yangtze, which flows through southern Anhui for 400 kilometers, and the Huaihe River, which runs through the north of the province.
An extra 355 km of shipping lane has been added to existing watercourses and the main construction was completed last year. In terms of length, it is second only to the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, according to provincial authorities.
The section inaugurated on Wednesday connects Huaihe River and Chaohu Lake, the country's fifth largest freshwater lake, located in Hefei.
Before the canal's trial opening, Li had to sail east along the Huaihe River to the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, turn south to the Yangtze River, then head west into Yuxi River, a natural tributary of the Yangtze, before turning north to finally reach Chaohu Lake.
"The new canal helped me save two days of shipping time and more than 400 liters of diesel," Li said.
The Yangtze-Huaihe Grand Canal is part of the Yangtze-to-Huaihe water diversion project. The Huaihe River and the Qinling Mountains form the geographical dividing line that separates China's south and north.
The water diversion project was initiated in 2016 with the aim of not only bringing water from the Yangtze River to the country's comparatively drier northern parts, but also facilitating the passage of shipping vessels to improve logistics efficiency.
"This project reduces the water transportation distance between the Huaihe River and Yangtze River by 200 km to 600 km, making water transportation more convenient, economical and eco-friendly," said Chen Xi, general manager of the Anhui Provincial Group for Yangtze-to-Huaihe Water Diversion.
With a total length of 723 km, the project passes through 12 cities in Anhui and two more in Henan province and will benefit more than 50 million people.
It will see an investment of nearly 91.3 billion yuan ($12.5 billion), with projects worth 83.6 billion yuan completed by the end of July, according to Chen's company.
The project will also be used for agricultural irrigation and help improve the ecology of both Huaihe River and Chaohu Lake.
Chen said the project will enhance the integrated development of transportation in the Yangtze River Delta region.
He estimated it will save more than 6 billion yuan in annual bulk cargo freight and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 1.8 million tons a year.
Engineers from China Railway No 10 Engineering Group, which participated in the construction, said they were excited to contribute to the project, with multiple technical difficulties overcome during construction.
In the early third century, Cao Cao, a powerful minister and warlord who laid the foundation for the future Wei Dynasty (220-265), tried to connect the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers. He gave up due to extreme difficulties, according to an article in Guangming Daily.
In the 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong also proposed connecting the two rivers during a visit to the Yangtze. However, the idea was not followed up until 2013, when the Anhui provincial government formally began preparation to start construction. Ground was broken for the start of the project in December 2016.