QingShan & LongWu: From Water Restoration to Ecological Village
At the beginning of November, Green Initiatives (GI) visited Qingshan Village in Zhejiang Province to learn about the Water Fund project led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). GI is thankful to the entire TNC team for the warm welcome and hospitality.
This article aims to share more about the project, our learnings and future opportunities.
TNC Water Fund Conservancy project
A few years ago, TNC partnered with Alibaba’s Jack Ma to work on a Water Fund conservancy project in China. They were looking for a location that would be not too far from big coastal cities as to remain accessible, but still remote enough to benefit from the natural environment. Longwu Reservoir close to Qingshan Village in Zhejiang Province, at 1-3 hours away from Hangzhou and Shanghai, seemed like a perfect location.
Longwu Reservoir is one of the 20,000 drinking water sources in Zhejiang Province. While having to supply drinking water to over 2,000 people, the source was heavily polluted, just as 70% of the water sources in the province. Non-point source agricultural pollution, through excessive usage of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, had heavily contaminated the water source. (1) The shortage of funds and the lack of effective management exacerbated the problems.
In order to tackle the reservoir issues, in 2015 TNC set up a Fund that would give them the property and management rights of the farmland in the area. They would also become the official advisor of the Fund, offering design models to protect the water source, forestry science management solutions, result assessments and resource coordination. In more concrete words, the Fund used manual weeding to replant greenery around the reservoir, and worked with the farmers to stop pesticide use.
Within a few years, their efforts have borne the fruits they hoped for: while in 2014 the levels of phosphorous (TP) and dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water were classified as category III-IV, the tests after 2016 reached category I (the best category possible). (2) The nitrogen (TN) levels nevertheless remained high despite the conservancy project, mainly due to the water source’s proximity to Hangzhou. Establishing alternate vegetation on the adjacent land to the water source and controlling the air pollution would restore the TN levels, but that would require larger amounts of funding that is for now unavailable.
The Water Fund project also brought other types of change to Qingshan Village. As to make sure that farmers kept their income despite the reduced crops, TNC partnered with Yuhang to establish a Design library that would incorporate traditional crafts in modern architecture. Villagers were welcomed to participate in several product (re)design projects that would later on be sold commercial, proceeds of which would go to the villagers.
The village has also welcomed over 1,000 Alibaba volunteers as well as volunteers from other organizations, to participate in educational courses and welfare activities. Future plans on establishing a learning center for children is also in the making.
GI Experience and Feedback
A short walk around Qingshan village and Longwu Reservoir bore the positive signs of TNC’s contribution: water coming directly from the source was streaming abundantly through the village, and was widely used by villagers in their daily tasks. Recycle bins were set along the streets, separating the trash into three different sorts. Solar panels stood on the rooftops of most of the houses. The Water Fund project had clearly not only given the villagers its clean water back but had also instilled a certain level of ecological awareness. Indeed, the polluted water source had shown how interconnected everything is in the environment, and how important ecological habits are as to maintain the water source quality.
With the water source restored to its original healthy levels, comes maybe the hardest part of the Water Fund Project: how to change the villagers’ habits for the best and how to maintain them.
While TNC and the villagers have gone a long way to improve the situation, the project also shows that ecological awareness and behavioral change needs more time. TNC is continuously having conversations with the local households to increase awareness. It hopes to tackle this issue by educating the younger generation, who in turn can bring ecological habits into the village and beyond.
We hope that ecological awareness and good practices will continue to evolve in a controlled manner, especially with several major tourism development projects coming up (education center, luxury resort).
GI and TNC Future Opportunities
Qingshan village and Longwu Reservoir are great examples of ecological restorations. GI hopes to work with TNC further on the following opportunities:
1. Mutual learning and exchange between inhabitants and visitors:
- How can both sides better experience the project?
- Inhabitants: What changes have the habitants noticed in their environment? How has that changed their lifestyle and habits? What would they like to see improved environmentally in the coming years
- Visitors: How has the visit impacted the visitors’ views? What have they learned and experienced from the visit? What can they implement in their lives in the city?
- How can we generate awareness and change our habits? Which habits that we have are not beneficial for the environment? Why is it difficult to change them? How can we be aware of them and generate change?
- What are the pros and cons of living in the city vs in countryside or nature? How does living in a city influence us? How does living in nature influence us? How can we find the much-needed balance we need in connected, fast-paced lives that are dependent on convenience?
2. Environmental immersion:
- Engage visitors in bamboo cleaning and farming projects
- Engage visitors in the “From farm to table” process
- Engage visitors in trash collection from nearby forests
- Create activities focused on health, wellness and mindfulness
3. Creative thinking:
- Engage visitors with the design studio as to combine creativity with ecology
- Encourage ‘manual’ labor in a super connected world i.e. use of hands to create things
- Share knowledge of craft, culture, materials, textures and stories of objects