Envisioning Free Flowing Rivers Forever in China

Posted by Kristen McDonald on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 20:18

Temple at A Bei, Nu River, TibetTemple at A Bei, Nu River, TibetIn March of 2009, China Rivers Project had its first research-oriented river trip on the Great Bend of the Jinsha River, a stunning limestone canyon threatened by a cascade of large hydropower dams. Myself and two of the trip participants, a UC Santa Barbara professor and a Colorado water lawyer, shared a boat one day. We started brainstorming what has evolved into a collaborative research venture that brings us one step closer to realizing permanent river protection for some of China's rivers.

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, a big goal of China Rivers Project is to help foster a more forward-thinking approach to river conservation in China, one that can be more effective than a defensive approach. Our trips, and our emphasis on river recreation and river heritage, are means to creating connection between people and China's biologically and culturally rich river canyons. But once this link is established, what can be done to actually keep some of this river heritage, and the wildlife and culture it supports, in place? 

Our project with UC Santa Barbara began with this question. We wanted to find out what models for river protection have worked in other settings, and how relevant these models could be for China. A team of four graduate students worked for a year gathering information on four river protection models: the US Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, the European Union's Water Framework Directive, and Norway's River Protection System. The legal and political underpinnings of these systems and their various outcomes are assessed and lessons drawn for China. The students who worked on the project also spent a good deal of time familiarizing themselves with China's domestic water law and other relevant laws.

The research team's findings are available online. Next, we will be shortening the report a bit and having it translated into Chinese, so that we can review it with partners in Beijing and possibly collaborate with them on presenting the study and gathering feedback from government officials. I am really excited about this project and the promise it holds for sparking a dialogue around the possibility of a permenent river protection system in China.