Slideshow: reviving the Yongding

Beijing’s “mother river”, dry for more than a decade, has started to flow again. Tom Hancock presents a series of photos by Berta Tilmantaite documenting the controversial restoration of an iconic waterway.

Beijing is running out of water. Water levels in the city have plunged to 100 cubic metres per person, far below the international warning level, while Beijing’s two major reservoirs are now less than a tenth full.

Once known as Beijing’s “mother river”, the Yongding River has been dry for over a decade: a victim of low rainfall and overexploitation for industrial development.

But in the last few months, the Yongding River has begun to flow again. Beijing’s government is spending 16 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) on restoring the dried-out riverbed, filling it with water and creating parkland along the riverside.

Government officials say the project aims to benefit the local environment. But environmentalists argue the river is being restored for the sake of economic development in districts bordering the river, adding to the pressure on Beijing’s water reserves.

Tom Hancock is a freelance journalist and Berta Tilmantaite a freelance photographer. Both are based in Beijing.