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Yangtze River

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The Yangtze River begins in China’s Qinghai Tibet Plateau and flows for 6,300 kilometers (4,000 miles) eastward to the East China Sea, traversing nine provinces and draining 180 million hectares (695 million square miles) of land. The Yangtze is the world’s third longest river, ranking behind the Nile and the Amazon rivers.
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Content Preview
Yangtze River
China
he construction of dams on two-thirds of
legend, the baiji was the reincarnation of a
the world’s rivers has spurred international
drowned princess. But in reality, this graceful gray
Tconcernforthefutureoffreshwater. dolphinsufferedtheconsequencesofoverfishing,
Nowhere is this more apparent than China’s
pollution, altered water flows and habitat
Yangtze River, the world’s busiest inland shipping
destruction. Scientists fear that if action is not
corridor and the nation’s longest river. In an effort
taken soon to manage dams on the Yangtze in a
to restore and protect this precious resource, The
sustainable manner, the same fate could await the
Nature Conservancy is part of a global community
finless porpoise, the critically endangered Chinese
of scientists, engineers and water managers
alligator or any of the 300 fish species in the river.
working to promote the sustainable management of
the Yangtze for the benefit of China’s people and
In addition to the nearly completed Three Gorges
wildlife.
Dam, the world’s largest hydropower facility, more
dams are currently being constructed on the
The Yangtze Under Threat
Yangtze to provide flood control and hydropower
The Yangtze River begins in China’s Qinghai-
generation. While many value hydropower as a
Tibet Plateau and flows for 6,300 kilometers
“green” source of energy, scientists caution that
(4,000 miles) eastward to the East China Sea,
hydropower threatens to disrupt the natural
traversing nine provinces and draining 180 million
balance of freshwater habitats by altering water
hectares (695 million square miles) of land. The
flows, sediment transport, and water quality,
Yangtze is the world’s third longest river, ranking
thereby jeopardizing both the people and natural
behind the Nile and the Amazon rivers. More than
communities that depend on the river for survival.
400 million people live within the Yangtze River
valley, and a large portion of this population
A Step by Step Process
depends on a fully functioning river for their
In September 2006, The Nature Conservancy
livelihoods, electricity, food and drinking water.
hosted the first of two workshops aimed at
Fish provide the primary source of protein for tens
ensuring the sustainable operation of proposed
of millions of Chinese along the Yangtze, but dams,
dams on the Jinsha Jiang, the major tributary to
water diversions and pollution are taking their toll
the Upper Yangtze River. Held in Chongqing along
on the river’s fish and other wildlife.
the banks of the Yangtze, 40 scientists and water
managers gathered to determine the necessary
In 2006, scientists announced the functional
volume and timing of water flows needed to ensure
extinction of the baiji dolphin. For millions of
a healthy river ecosystem while still providing
years this freshwater mammal roamed the waters of
adequate flood control and power generation. The
China’s Yangtze River. According to Chinese
meeting resulted in the drafting of a consensus
Top photo: Yangtze River (© Dou Weiyang)

statement – in English and Mandarin – laying the
groundwork for the development of flow
recommendations. With the Changjiang Water
Resources Commission taking the lead, experts
prepared a draft report of current information on
ecological flow relationships and requirements
which was presented at the 2nd Yangtze River
Forum in April 2007.
A second workshop was held in November 2006 in
Beijing, sponsored by the National Development
and Reform Commission (NDRC), Energy
Bureau, with coordination from the Chinese
Hydropower Engineering Consulting Group
China. The forum brought together scientists and
Company and the Chinese Society for Hydropower
water managers from all over the world to discuss
Engineering. On the first day of the workshop,
the protection and sustainable development of the
nearly 110 engineers and water managers convened
Yangtze River. Conservancy-sponsored sessions at
to examine a number of case studies detailing the
the forum focused on river basin management and
sustainable reoperation of hydropower systems to
showcased the organization’s global freshwater
maximize ecological benefits. Studies presented
conservation work.
included cases on the Savannah, Roanoke,
Colorado and Columbia rivers in the United
The Future of Freshwater Management
States, rivers in British Columbia and Canada, and
By working with global partners to protect the
the integrated hydroelectric grid in Brazil.
Yangtze River, The Nature Conservancy is playing
a vital role in the conservation of freshwater
On the second day of the workshop, Conservancy
resources around the world. But working at this
scientists met with representatives of the Three
scale is challenging, which makes the generous
Gorges Company, the developer of the four large
support of our donors more important now than
dams on the lower Jinsha Jiang, and the NDRC to
ever before. By providing scientific expertise to
discuss the possibility of environmentally-favorable
address the environmental threats associated with
operations and the difficulties in defining
dam construction and operation, Conservancy
appropriate environmental flow recommendations.
scientists are helping to shape the future of
As a result of that meeting, the Conservancy
freshwater management worldwide.
received an invitation to present a proposal to
Three Gorges Company to assist in the
development of environmental flow
recommendations. Ideally, The Nature Conservancy
can continue to work with the Three Gorges
Company and the Yangtze River Basin
The Nature Conservancy
Commission in an advisory role to help guide the
future framework for ecologically-favorable dam
2424 Spruce Street, Suite 100
construction and management along the Yangtze
Boulder, Colorado 80302
River.
Phone: (303) 541-0344
E-mail: sustainablewaters@tnc.org
In April 2007, The Nature Conservancy co-
sponsored, organized and presented a variety of
nature.org/freshwaters
activities at the 2nd Yangtze Forum in Changsha,
Top photo: Terraced farm field along the Yangtze (© TNC)

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