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3 years on, grassroot river chief gives watercourse facelift

(Xinhua)    14:48, November 17, 2020

BEIJING, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- On a chilly late autumn morning, the winding Baihe River runs slowly through Pengheyan Village, located upstream of the Miyun reservoir in the northeast suburbs of Beijing. Guo Yijun, 61, starts his routine patrol along the 9.8-km-long waterway around 6 a.m. as the village's river chief.

Guo is among China's tens of thousands of river chiefs charged with the duty of preventing pollution of the river, illegal dumping of garbages and illegal structures on the river.

Baihe River empties into the Miyun Reservoir, Beijing's main source of drinking water. The river used to be littered with barbecue stalls and rafting projects set up by the nearby villagers, especially during peak seasons, according to Guo.

"Barbecue bamboo sticks bobbed up and down on the water, and plastic bags hung in the bush. Such an unsightly scene and ugly remembrance! There's nothing more heart-wrenching," Guo recalled.

In 2017, Beijing officially implemented a four-level river chief system. Government officials at the municipality, district, township and village levels are appointed river chiefs for the sake of ecological preservation and restoration.

To say absolutely no to pollution, Guo knocked on residents' doors, persuading them to give up rafting and barbecue businesses and participate in garbage sorting and sewage seepage prevention.

He had a bumpy start, though. Tan Fengwei, who ran a homestay business at that time, turned down Guo's advice at once. "Without rafting and barbeque, who would ever come to our inn?"

In order to persuade residents like Tan, Guo visited them every day and tried to put himself in their shoes with patience. "You may well suffer an income loss in the short term. But if we never say no to such businesses, the village environment would get worse and worse. Who would ever come to our village again?"

Guo's efforts worked and villagers gradually changed their minds. Some even joined the village's river protection team to patrol and collect litter along the waterway just like Guo.

"He didn't fool us. The number of tourists has grown in recent years as the environment improves," Tan said, adding that the importance of protecting the river has sunk in little by little.

Newly built boardwalks and landscape facilities have enriched the tourism experience along the river, injecting new impetus into the local tourism sector, according to He Lijun, river chief of Shicheng Township, Miyun District, which administers Pengheyan Village.

Three years on, Beijing now boasts 1,095 township-level river chiefs and 4,042 village-level river chiefs, as well as more than 6,800 river patrollers. Currently, every 10 km of waterways has 11 patrollers. They all contribute to the improving environment of Beijing, said Song Lei, director of river chief administration from Beijing Municipal Water Affairs Bureau.

"In the near future, river chiefs will be equipped with cutting-edge devices such as drones and intelligent cameras to make their more efficient," Song said.

Though the weather has begun to turn cold, Guo patrols the river every two days as usual. "It's both work and exercise. I could never get enough of the picturesque scenery along the watercourse," Guo said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wen Ying, Liang Jun)

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