Restoring landscapes to support cities' growth

The Chinese capital Beijing is a growing city – growing in terms of people, and the space it needs for them to live, grow food, and to support expanding industries. Provided with water from the Miyun reservoir, new approaches need to be developed to maintain sustainable supplies of water for Beijing.

Miyun Workshop in Beijing, September 2012.

Rapid urban growth often comes at a cost to water supplies – both in terms of being able to provide volumes of water required, but also to maintain good quality. Pricing mechanisms, demand management, and other approaches can often only do so much. Ultimately safeguarding supplies has to be considered and in some cases this can involve costly large infrastructure schemes.

IUCN works in watersheds across the world to assist governments and Members to protect and manage their watersheds for safe and secure urban water supplies. In Ecuador, IUCN supported the key role played by its Member organisations TNC and FONAG in safeguarding the healthy functioning of the paramo, an upland ecosystem of South America. Through an innovative finance scheme, the paramo was left intact, resulting in a more secure water supply for the 2 million inhabitants of downstream Quito.

The Miyun watershed lies in the northeast of the North China Plain. This is a fragile, semi-arid area with a high degree of rainfall variability. Preserving the functions of the watershed is critical for the Miyun reservoir in providing Beijing with 60-80% of its drinking water. Already Beijing residents receive far less water per person than the national Chinese average. The watershed, traditionally covered with broadleaf forest has gone through considerable change over the last century as a result of a rapidly growing population, human encroachment into forest areas, deforestation and agricultural expansion. This has changed the water functions of the landscape, changing water flows and water quality.

Adopting a nature based approach helps to position watersheds as part of the natural infrastructure solution to collect, store, clean and move water. By looking at watersheds as infrastructure that connects the landscape to the reservoir, we can see where there are problems and what types of land restoration activities are needed to allow the watershed to function as natural infrastructure.

At a recent workshop organised by the Beijing Forestry Society, IUCN helped look at these functions, the need to restore landscapes for water source protection, and the supply of water to Beijing. Innovation is required to move beyond urban-rural differences and between provinces. Dry years will affect all those dependent on the Miyun reservoir, and those years will impact the ability of Beijing to carry on with business-as-usual.

Working with Members, the Beijing Forestry Society, Forest Trends and other partners, IUCN supports the development of work on landscape restoration to maintain Miyun watershed functions and its water supply for downstream Beijing.

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