by Lewis Linker
December 16, 2009
The Chesapeake Bay Program had great success in Beijing from March 28 to April 5, 2009, when we worked with the World Bank and United Nations Global Environment Facility (UN-GEF) to develop the first-ever watershed program in China for the Hai River watershed, a 123,000-square-mile area that includes the 31 million people in Beijing and Tianjin.
Several of the goals of the World Bank and UN-GEF project were to:
- Decrease water pollution to the Hai watershed and the adjacent Bohai Sea.
- Reduce the groundwater overdraft in the Hai watershed.
- Reduce pollution loading to the Bohai Sea from coastal counties.
- Develop Integrated Water and Environmental Management Plans (IWEMPs) for ten selected counties in the Hai watershed and for the Tianjin Municipality.
At a five-day conference, we worked with Chinese federal level equivalents of the EPA, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Water Resources. Representatives and experts from the province (state) and local levels were also present. What our Chinese colleagues brought to the table was energy, a passion to begin their first watershed program, and knowledge that the status quo of polluted water and air wasn’t good enough.
They also brought legacy baggage: inexperience with watershed programs, ministries and departments that have never worked together on a watershed scale, and the perspective that their ministries treat what should be public domain data as private property. If data is to be had, it has to be purchased from the agency that collected it, generating problems in a watershed program that is short on monitoring, discharge and emission data to begin with.
This sounds pretty grim, but it’s really not too different than in the 1980s when the Bay Program began, and, ya’ know, ya’ gotta start somewhere.
The conference began with two days of six interrelated presentations that told the story of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s integrated air, watershed, estuary and living resources models. Our Chinese colleagues were particularly interested in the air and watershed models, as they’re developing an assessment of the overall proportions of point and nonpoint source loads to the Bo Hai watershed. This is exact same question the Bay Program set out to answer with the first watershed model in the early 1980s.
In our discussions on the first day, it came out that there was a real interest in estimating the land export factors for the Hai watershed, so we went back to the hotel after dinner and worked pretty much though the night to put together a new presentation specifically on this topic. It’s kind of cool we can do this with the internet. Even on the other side of the world, we were able to use our web-served documentation and reports to make this new presentation happen.
The Bay Program’s open web-based approach was also a revelation to our Chinese colleagues, as was our program’s office, which holds EPA, university, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, Forest Service, state agency personnel, and representatives from other organizations all working on the same watershed. This is completely different from the insular and closed approach in Chinese public agencies today.
By the end of the technology transfer conference, we heard consensus about taking an overall mass balance approach for nutrient inputs and outputs in the Hai River watershed – a key first step that needs to be taken in any study. We encouraged them to begin a spreadsheet of the mass balance right away, taking into account the numbers of animals in each county and the estimated loads from animal and village populations. The important thing was to get some momentum going on this project, as well as to get an early sense of the data gaps and problems that would need to be sorted out. There will be a thousand areas of compromise and best professional judgments that will be key to putting this first watershed assessment together.
Overall, our participation was a great success. Rarely have we felt the Bay Program have such a large impact over such a short period of time. Our Chinese colleagues saw the Bay Program as an example to follow. After 30 years of our watershed protection program, we are at a Phase 5 level of watershed modeling, while they’re able to start at a Phase 1 or Phase 2 level and build from there.
We congratulate and applaud our Chinese colleagues for beginning this watershed approach. It’s the right track and will in the long run provide the most complete and cost-effective environmental protection. A new cooperation among the different Chinese agencies leading this project has begun, which will be key to any success with their first watershed program. Our colleagues in Beijing have made good progress in this direction and have the right mix of environmental, agricultural and water resource agencies at the table, as well as a good representation from the federal, provincial and local levels.
We thank our Chinese colleagues for their kind hospitality and for making the Chesapeake Bay Program a part of their conference.
Background on the Hai watershed and Bohai Sea:
Covering a catchment area of 123,000 square miles, the Hai River is a crucial river in North China formed by the convergence of five rivers in Tianjin: the Chao River, the Yongding River, the Daqing River, the Ziya River and the Hutuo River. The Hai River flows into the Bohai Sea.