This manuscript project investigates the environmental history of the larger Jining region in the Ming and Qing dynasties, much of which was the heyday of the Grand Canal, the lifeblood for the state. Jining underwent immense environmental changes due to the construction, refurbishment and maintenance of a series of water conservancy works. I describe how this hydraulic-ecological complex progressively redefined and remade local natural conditions to create an infrastructural foundation for the Grand Canal. In turn, the reshaped physiographical conditions brought about substantial mobility, mutability and vitality to Jining’s agricultural, demographic and social configurations, transforming it from an agrarian society into a highly commercialized and urbanized system. With the canal as its central axis, I have a further objective of illuminating human responses to the social and political complications that their alterations caused. I then proceed to examine the interface between state surveillance over hydraulic systems and local initiative in the case of the northern canal zone, and argue that the state’s goal of canal transportation interacted with local initiatives such as the use of water resources for irrigation and farming. The state directed these regional geospatial and ecological transformations, and their drastic environmental ramifications affected institutions, groups and individuals in both the local political and economic contexts, as well as in the religious and cultural spheres.