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The Tragedy of China's Yellow River

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December 20, 2010

The Tragedy of China's Yellow River

Art Bernstein, MS (Gold Hill, OR), writer and naturalist. "China's Yellow River, a study in neglect."

Sharon Kleyne and Art Bernstein talked about the situation with China's Yellow River. Sharon noted that people commit suicide by jumping into the river, which is one of the most polluted in the world.

According to Art Bernstein, the Yellow River is 3,395 miles long, second longest in China and #7 in the world. It begins on the Tibetan Plateau (Bayan Har Mountains) in the "Three Rivers National Preserve," where China's longest river (Yangtze) and third longest river (Mekong) also begin. The Yangtze carries by far the most water.

From its source, the Yellow River flows across China's North Central Plateau, also called the Loess Plateau. Loess is a kind of soil formed from wind blown dust. It is extremely fine and saturates the river with silt, causing its distinctive yellowish color. The Loess Plateau also happens to be China's industrial heartland and most polluted region.

For its final 500 miles, the Yellow River flows across the vast North China Plain before emptying into the Bohai Sea south of Beijing. In this region, the extreme silt content has created a perched bed and natural levees making the river is above the level of the surrounding plain. When these levees are breached due to high water, it can flood vast areas and cost thousands of lives.

The pollution problem is not recent and Art Bernstein suggested that the place to start is to cleanup the surrounding industry. Factories are no longer allowed to dump effluent into the Mississippi or Great Lakes and they should not be allowed to dump into the Yellow River. 33% of the Yellow River is not fit for drinking or irrigation and getting it on your skin can be toxic. The river is navigable, however.

The Yellow is considered an environmental bell-weather. Clean it up and others will follow.

(Bernstein, Art, Weird Hikes - Second Edition, Falcon Guides, 2011)