Case Study

Community-Based Water Stewardship, China

COMMUNITY-BASED WATER STEWARDSHIP

Case Study Summary The pilot communities currently have no wastewater treatment facilities, resulting in the direct discharge of sewage to nearby streams and a water supply reservoir, which negatively impacts human and ecosystem health. An innovative community-based participatory approach to designing, building, and maintaining wastewater treatment wetlands is being applied to improve sustainability and freshwater conservation.
Sector
           WATER
Key Topics
  • Community engagement
  • Capacity building
  • Nature-based solution
  • Biodiversity
Project Owner Conservation International
Project Start/Completion 2019 – Dec 2021
Location Guangdong Province, China
Community Impacted Rural
Vulnerable Groups Impacted Rural residents in key water source areas
Climate Hazards Mitigated Water stress
Case Study Provided by Conservation International

The pilot communities currently have no wastewater treatment facilities, resulting in the direct discharge of sewage to nearby streams and a water supply reservoir, which negatively impacts human and ecosystem health. An innovative community-based participatory approach to designing, building, and maintaining wastewater treatment wetlands is being applied to improve sustainability and freshwater conservation.

About the Project

The Dongjiang River in southern China provides drinking water for 40 million people, from city dwellers in Hong Kong to rural residents. But this critical freshwater ecosystem is being pushed to its limits. With limited effective wastewater treatment facilities in the countryside, sewage often seeps into the freshwater resources that people depend on — and local officials are struggling to combat the pollution degrading the Dongjiang River.

Using the results of Conservation International’s Freshwater Health Index (FHI) — a tool to help local decision-makers create healthier watersheds— people in the villages of Xiadong and Lixi, in the Dongjiang River Basin, embarked on a project to improve community-based water stewardship. With funding from Conservation International, they led the design and construction of nature-inspired water treatment systems that mimic wetlands’ ability to purify water contaminated by chemicals and waste.

Community members and stakeholders were engaged in the entire project process beginning at site selection and investigation, and the drafting of a project implementation plan that establishes a core project implementing team and a water environment management team. The core project implementing team is composed of members from Conservation International and local partners, and includes experts in water treatment, community and capacity building, nature education, and project management. The water environment management team, composed entirely of community members, co-designs the treatment system and is responsible for building and maintaining the new wastewater treatment wetlands in their communities. Treatment wetlands use a combination of ecosystem and conventional treatment approaches to clean the water, improving ecosystem health and freshwater supplies.

These ‘constructed wetlands’ work by facilitating the flow of contaminated water through traditional infrastructure, such as shallow septic tanks, into

natural ecosystems such as marshes, plants and soil that absorb pollutants and filter the water. Every year, the engineered wetlands treat up to 9,000 tons of sewage in the two villages before returning the water to the river.

Achieved Outcomes

As part of the programme, Conservation International helped train a group of villagers as guides to showcase the wetlands, offering educational tours of the apiaries where beekeepers harvest honey, the native herb and bamboo forests, and orange orchards. A portion of the revenue from the tours goes to a community water fund, which was set up to support the wetlands’ maintenance.

“We villagers now actively take part in testing water quality monthly, patrolling along the river twice a week, and cleaning leaves and branches from it,” said Yanghui Dai from Xiadong Village. “The project is not only about constructing a wetland, but more about the actual changes to local people’s lives by bringing in economic benefits and an improved environment that attracts more and more visitors.”

Along with treating wastewater, these natural systems are providing habitat for native waterfowl, fish, frogs, insects and other species.

Since the project began, we have seen a rise in the amount of wildlife in the area. With clean water, the animals can thrive at the same time that we are creating freshwater infrastructure to help people.Weiling Wu, Conservation International

Carbon mitigation

Compared with traditional grey infrastructure for sewage treatment, the constructed wetland system does not consume electricity for operation. It made use of topographic relief to direct water flows and semi-natural wetland ecosystem to degrade pollutants. This helps save considerable amount of energy and reduce carbon release in the long run. Furthermore, growth of aquatic plants has certain carbon sequestration effects.

Number of vulnerable people made more resilient by this project

200

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