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Bringing Water to a Fragile Ecosystem in China

NSF Award:

Negotiations and Impacts: Great Western Development, Rural Peasants, and Water Policy across China?s Loess Plateau  (Central Washington University)

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Student-faculty teams working with Chinese faculty and local administrators have developed new water management programs designed to benefit industry and provide sufficient resources to local peasants. 

As a result of student efforts, water management plans have been developed for three counties in northwestern China. In Xunhua county, Qinghai province, local officials are now developing new grazing strategies for Tibetan herders designed to protect the denuded mountains surrounding the Yellow River. In Guyuan county, Ningxia province, forestry practices were changed to better accommodate the particular agricultural practices of Hui Muslim peoples who live in the area.

This is an international collaborative program that both analyzes the impact of economic growth on water resource management practices in China's most fragile ecosystem, the Yellow River Loess plateau of northwestern China. Specifically, it explores rural, village-level impacts and responses to the environmental and economic policies of the central government via a multi-disciplinary analysis.  Integrated student/faculty teams of American and Chinese researchers have focused on

  • how the massive economic development initiated by the central government's ambitious "Great Western Development Strategy (Xibu dakaifa)" program has affected water resource management in rural, northwest China, and
  • how local users, largely rural, marginalized peasants, have reacted to and employed their own creative strategies to reformulate central policy according to their own needs.

Each year, 12 undergraduates spend three weeks in Chinese villages working directly with local farmers and administrators to develop a localized response to the area's hydrological crisis. American researchers also worked closely with their Chinese counterparts to design a research agenda and shape their methodologies according to local needs. 


  • researchers meet with local farmers and officials in china
Researchers meet with local farmers and officials in China.
James Cook, University of Pittsburgh

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