Heal the Bay Heads to Beijing

Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s Director of Water Quality, will be taking an important trip abroad to talk about our successes. Here she shares her thoughts.

For the next week, I have a special opportunity to look beyond Santa Monica Bay, California and the nation. I’m traveling to China to learn about water resource issues in the world’s most populous nation. My typical work trip involves attending a legislative hearing in Sacramento or a conference in San Francisco, so it’s a big change of pace.   

The Beijing government has invited me to speak about water issues and regulation in California and share lessons learned about how to balance water quality and water supply needs for tens of millions of residents. Water resource practitioners at the Beijing Hydraulics Research Institute and agencies in Beijing are now developing a Water Action Plan for the city to address its flotilla of environmental and supply challenges. This is no small task, as you can imagine, and California water experts may be able to offer some insight about what to do and what not to do.

China’s water issues are not dissimilar to California’s. The south of China has the majority of water, while the north of China has the majority of the population and agriculture and is more like a desert climate. The geography is flip-flopped but the dynamic is the same as the Golden State.

Large engineering projects have been the “solution”  for water supply for hundreds of years. The “Grand Canal” between Beijing and Hangzhou was finished in 500 A.D.! (Sounds a lot like our State Water Project, only on another continent and 1,500 years ago).  As main population hubs become dangerously short of water and existing water sources are plagued by pollution, the Chinese government is again looking to large-scale engineering projects.  The South-North Water Diversion Project will move water along 2,000 miles of canals. 

California and the entire United States still face many water challenges, but we have come a long way since the adoption of the Clean Water Act in 1972.  The most obvious indicator is that we no longer have rivers catching on fire like we did in 1969! The U.S. grappled with many environmental problems following the great population boom and industrial expansion after World War II. Now China finds itself in a similar situation.

In California many communities are focusing on ensuring a sustainable supply of local water and instituting more “green solutions” to water management. So I definitely have a good story to share, including providing the hope that in a relatively short period of time, a nation can turn things around for the better.

I’ll keep my eyes and ears open. When I get back, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned.