Water Quality From On-Ground: Huang Long Xian Village Case

By Jerry Jiang, Wanying Na, Zhenzhen Xu 18 March, 2019

AWS' Jiang, Na & Xu showcase how an environmental education pilot can raise awareness & improve local water quality

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) has worked with Qian Bai Yuan (QBY) environmental education centre since 2017, integrating education activities with village water stewardship
In the Huang Long Xian Village project, high school students were assigned understand the water flows & to investigate the relationship between human activity, water quality & ecosystems
Water risks from kitchen waste to fertiliser & sewage were identified but the local community was not aware; to tackle them, students implemented an affordable pilot sewage treatment system

Environmental education (EE) is vital in imparting an inherent respect for nature amongst society and in enhancing public environmental awareness, according to UNESCO. The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) has been working with Qian Bai Yuan (QBY) environmental education centre in Nanjing since 2017 with an aim to raise public awareness on water issues through integrating EE activities with village water stewardship.

Students were assigned to investigate the relationship between human activity, water quality & natural ecosystems

In this “Water Quality Assessment Project”, high-school students were assigned to investigate the relationship between human activity, water quality and natural ecosystems in Huang Long Xian Village using simple and accessible equipment and tools. Through a week of field work, students were able to map water resources in the village, understand baseline water quality condition and pollution sources, and prioritise water related challenges and opportunities for local community.

This pilot shows EE projects can be affordable and beneficial for both the students and the hosting site. Field activities with a clear theme, local context and real impacts allow students to build awareness as well as practical skills. Outdoor EE centers like QBY play a unique role, and further collaboration should be encouraged between outdoor EE centers and formal school education system.

Water flows in Huang Long Xian Village

40 kilometers from downtown Nanjing, one of the major cities in China, lies a hilly and mountainous region, where local villagers have been growing tea for decades. More recently, Huang Long Xian Village, where the project site (Qian Bai Yuan – QBY) is located, has also become a tourist attraction with a growing number of guesthouses and restaurants. There are currently 52 registered households and approximately 1.5 square kilometre of tea plantation in this village.

By walking around the area, the students identified the following water bodies and land use areas: natural lakes, artificial lakes for tourism purposes, fishing ponds, small seasonal ponds, paddy fields, reservoir and small connected waterways. Using the altitudes recorded on Google Earth, they then tried to find out the direction of water flow. The natural lake is the highest point and the altitude of the waterway gradually decreases as it moves through the tea plantations and paddy fields towards the reservoir.

By walking around the area, the students identified the following water bodies & land use areas

Taking a closer look at the tea plantations, water flows are highly regulated by constructed channels and how the water gathers becomes clearer. In the diagram below, (1) represents the top region of mountains that are often covered by naturally occurring coniferous and/or bamboo forests. (2) is a natural pond collecting rain water that can be found in most of the mountains in the region. As it rains, these ponds or lakes overflow and the water then flows down the mountains through natural or artificial streams (3) towards the tea plantations. Through manipulation by farmers, the streams divide into smaller streams that irrigate the tea plantations (4) before flowing into the waterway (5) directed towards the reservoir.

A closer look at the tea plantations shows that water flows are highly regulated by constructed channels

Water risks from kitchen waste to fertiliser & sewage

The students used a pH meter and a Surface Water Quality Testing Kit to measure pH, phosphate, heavy metal, ammonia-nitrogen, COD and iron levels for each sample. The overall water quality is quite satisfactory. However, a clear relationship between water quality degradation and human activity was found.

The overall water quality is quite satisfactory but a clear relationship between water quality degradation & human activity was found

Based on information gathered through community interviews, they summarised a list of potential water quality risks below:

  • Compost area: organic waste (including kitchen waste) is gathered near the tea plantation and composted; without proper management, compost runoff may pollute waterways during rainy days;
  • Fertilisers and pesticides used in paddy field and tea plantations;
  • Domestic sewage is the most severe pollution risk to this region; increase in tourism activities will further increase this risk.

Before the invention of fertilisers and pesticides, people use organic fertilisers and there were no eutrophication or frequent plague of insects. With the use of modern fertilisers, seedlings grow too quickly and insects eat them before they mature.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                – QBY staff


The students piloted a treatment system for domestic sewage…

To tackle these risks, QBY piloted a treatment system for its domestic sewage. The system consists of a sewage collection system, a sedimentation tank, and a long and narrow pond with aquatic plants. The water quality was tested at the outlet of the sedimentation tank, inlet and outlet of the pond. Data shows good removal of phosphate and ammonia-nitrogen at the final outlet. The treated wastewater then flows down to the tea plantation area as irrigation water. If these nutrients are released into the environment, there will be a much greater chance for the local water system to undergo eutrophication and other environmental problems.

Local community still not aware of pollution threats

Based on the students’ observation, the local community is not fully aware of water quality conditions and potential pollution threats in this area. Although the overall water quality is not bad, it’s very important to establish awareness at this critical period. Water quality in this region is highly related to farming practices and household sewage management.

Based on the students’ observation, the local community is not fully aware of pollution threats…

…it is important to establish awareness

Domestic sewage treatment should be a priority for pollution control in this area. The pilot system installed in the QBY has demonstrated that simple nature-based sewage treatment systems can be an affordable option. It is worthwhile to advocate for such solutions to the community and local government.

QBY can play a significant role in monitoring the water quality in the area regularly; studying the effects of tea plantations, other farming activities and tourism growth on water quality; and leading collaboration on water conservation in this area.

Editor’s note: Zhenzhen Xu was a supervisor for this student project.

Further Reading

  • Two Sessions: Reform – Transform – It has been a tough year but President Xi is staying true to his resolution to build a Beautiful China – what transformations can we expect? Find out in our review of this year’s Two Sessions
  • Key Water Policies 2018-2019 – Haven’t been following China’s environment & water-related policies? Get on top of them now with China Water Risk’s review, including China’s first Soil Ten Law & renewable energy quotas
  • Welcome To China’s Zero Waste Cities – China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu unpacks China’s new zero waste city initiative – can it save China’s cities from being ‘surrounding by garbage’? Which cities e.g. Greater Bay Area will become pilots?
  • Top 10 Responsible Investment Trends For 2019 In China – Chinese financial institutions are increasingly embracing responsible investment, so follow their lead and get up to date with the latest developments and key trends for 2019 from Syntao
  • China’s Water Sharing Treaties – Reciprocity In Practice? – Does China really deserve its bad rap over its water sharing practices? Chongqing University’s Dr. David J. Devlaeminck questions this by exploring water sharing norms through a Chinese lens
  • 2017 State Of Ecology & Environment Report Review – Prioritising rivers appears to have paid off but overall groundwater and Key Lakes & Reservoirs both worsened. Are we now seeing the “real” state of China’s environment? Find out in China Water Risk’s review of the 2017 State Of Ecology & Environment Report
  • Increasing Public Participation In China’s Environment – Can the public participate in environmental decision-making in China? Pacific Environment’s Guo Hanyuan, Kristen McDonald & Zhao Zhong expand on results from their 4-city pilot study and identify challenges
  • FreshWater Watch: Citizen Science At Work – Earthwatch Institute’s Benita Chick explores how the public can work with scientists to fast-track 11 years worth of water research. Find out what local and global impacts such programmes can make
  • China’s Increasing Use Of Public Environmental Data – China is trying to develop a green credit rating system. Dr Guo Peiyuan, a member of China Financial Association’s Green Finance Expert Committee, expands on publicly available environmental data & how it can help
Jerry Jiang
Author: Jerry Jiang
Jerry Jiang is currently a Grade 11 student enrolled in the two-year IB program at Pearson College UWC in Victoria, Canada. He loves environmental science. During his one-year Pre-IB program at UWC CSC in academic year 2017, he did a water quality research on the Quncheng Lake around the campus. He is passionate about water quality projects and is excited about spreading the importance of water quality to high-school students around the world.
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Wanying Na
Author: Wanying Na
Wanying is now a Grade 11 student enrolled in the two-year IB program at Mahindra UWC India. She loves environmental science. She had a one-year Pre-IB program at UWC CSC in academic year 2017 and did one year of bird watching. She agrees to UWC mission statement and values and feels excited about connecting them to the advocation of water quality importance.
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Zhenzhen Xu
Author: Zhenzhen Xu
Zhenzhen leads CWR’s stewardship initiatives which focus on rolling out the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard across Asia Pacific. She has more than 10 years of experience in the field of industrial water solutions, corporate water stewardship and sustainable financing. Previously, Zhenzhen was based in Shanghai, where she established AWS China, heading a team to design and implement on-ground water stewardship programmes for leading MNCs, global brands, Chinese corporations as well as industrial parks and even university campuses. There, she worked closely with multi-stakeholders in critical regions such as the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas as well as the Bohai Bay Area. Her time spent with businesses, local governments and NGOs to enhance catchment management through strategy & operational roundtables, trainings and site pilots provides valuable insights to managing basin risks. Zhenzhen also advises them on policy interventions and market incentives to build sustainable and holistic models to protect watersheds. Prior to this, she worked for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), co-leading their China Water Program; Veolia Water and Sogreah Consultancy. She holds a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering from Tongji University and a Master of Environmental Management and Development from the Australian National University.
Read more from Zhenzhen Xu →