Restoring China’s water supplies

The Miyun reservoir supplies up to 80% of the water used in Bejing, China’s capital city. Worsening water shortages are directly linked to the disappearance of much of the original forest in the Miyun watershed.

Miyun County, Beijing China Photo: Andrew Ingles

Over the last 30 to 40 years, substantial efforts have been made to reforest the Miyun landscape in response to urgent needs to protect the Miyun reservoir and its watershed.

The Government introduced strict controls on land and forest use, including a ban on logging, and invested heavily in reforestation. But these strictly protected, mainly young stands of trees are in poor condition, and make a limited contribution to soil, water and biodiversity conservation because they have not been properly managed.

Communities outside Beijing have also become financially disadvantaged over the last few decades as a result of the logging ban and strict regulation of their access to forests. There are few income and employment opportunities available as incomes have traditionally been associated with forest products.

Since 1995, the Beijing Municipality has compensated Chengteh and Zhangjiakou cities in the Hebei Province for the protection of the Miyun watershed. Currently the annual payment is US$ 2.5 million, of which US$ 1 million goes to Zhangjiakou. The funding provided is used only for specific purposes, including the construction of soil and water conservation measures and subsidies to farmers who convert paddy fields to dry farmland, forest or grass land.

It was clear that the logging ban needed to be replaced with a new forest development and management strategy, and it was against this backdrop that in 2007 IUCN initiated a ‘Livelihoods and Landscapes’ project in the Miyun watershed. A more integrated form of landscape management and restoration was introduced that recognises the multiple needs and functions of the watershed and brings together the many different stakeholders.

Watershed management needed to improve forest biodiversity and water resource services as well as improved incomes for the surrounding population. A new set of forest management practices were introduced, representing a shift from a strict protection approach towards more sustainable resource use through active management by forest-based communities.

This has resulted in a formal agreement that recognizes different forest management and use regimes, merging the technical information held by Government foresters with local knowledge and priorities. Forest regeneration projects are being carried out by local communities, resulting in natural forest regeneration and improvements in forest structure, quality and function.

There are other positive outcomes: A permit for harvesting timber has been secured—the first to be issued in more than 20 years and a new system of harvesting fuel wood has been established. Community-based cooperatives are being established to develop the market potential of forest goods and services, with the aim of increasing and diversifying local in the long-term.

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