Shrouded in mist and towering nearly twice as high as the Washington Monument, local officials describe Yuntai Falls as China’s “tallest uninterrupted waterfall” to the millions of visitors who flock to the protected landscape every year.

But what they failed to mention until this week is that the cascade, located in China’s central Henan province, is boosted by a concealed network of water pipes.

The admission came after footage taken by a hiker circulated widely on Chinese social media, prompting consternation online. It showed water gushing out of pipes that had been built high up into the rock face, feeding some — if not all — of the waterfall’s flow.

In a statement Tuesday, tourist officials at the Yuntai Mountain scenic resort, where the waterfall is located, admitted that they had made a “small enhancement” to the otherwise natural waterfall to improve the viewing experience for tourists.

“Depending on the season, I cannot guarantee that I am in my best condition whenever my friends come to see me,” read the statement, written from the perspective of the waterfall.


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“To make your experience of the journey more complete and to make you feel that it’s a worthwhile trip, I underwent a small enhancement so that I could meet my friends in better shape in the dry season,” it continued.

Officials did not provide details on when the pipes were constructed or how frequently they were used, but suggested that tourists who visit the waterfall in the wetter summer months would witness its “magnificence in a perfect and the most natural manner.”

According to the park’s official website, the natural landscape attracts more than 7 million Chinese and international tourists each year — with its nearby geological formations dating back more than a billion years.

The landscape is one of 213 globally certified as a UNESCO Global Geopark, defined as a protected landscape that “uses its geological heritage, in connection with all other aspects of the area’s natural and cultural heritage, to enhance awareness and understanding of key issues facing society.”

UNESCO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday on whether enhancing a waterfall’s flow with pipes breached its conservation guidelines.

According to the state-run Henan Daily news outlet, an unnamed official at the site denied that the enhancement meant the waterfall should be considered man-made.

“Considering that many visitors come all the way from out of town, the scenic area set up an auxiliary device to divert water to the source of the waterfall, in a move to boost visitor experience based on natural landscape and to make sure the Yuntai Falls stays visually appealing even in the dry season,” the official said.

The waterfall straddles the boundary between Henan and neighboring Shanxi province, and its location — and lucrative status as a tourist attraction — occasionally inflames tensions between the two provincial governments. Officials in Henan province have previously accused their counterparts in Shanxi of diverting water from the Yuntai by planning to construct a reservoir and dam upstream, causing the waterfall to dry up in some months.

According to Henan Daily, the video of the water pipes that prompted the admission was recorded from a steep area beyond the bounds of the permitted tourist area. “After verification from multiple sources, the scenic area [management] found that the person who filmed the original video climbed up to the spot on a trail from another province,” the outlet reported.

One comment on Chinese news aggregator Toutiao quipped that if Dubai affixed a water pipe to the top of the Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world — would it not become the world’s tallest waterfall instead? Others tried to defend the intentions of the resort area’s management, with one saying on Weibo that a dried-up waterfall would have caused more grievances than an artificially enhanced one.

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