In East China’s Fujian Province, the booming economy has been good to the cities of Sanming and Nanping, as well as to farmers in the surrounding hills. That, however, has been bad news for the Min River and to the downstream city of Fuzhou, which gets its water from the Min. As farmers chopped down the trees that anchored the steep slopes of the Min River valley, silt began to pile up in the river as those slopes eroded.
To ease the burden of filtering out all the silt from its municipal water supply, Fuzhou pays Sanming and Nanping roughly $800 million annually to encourage farmers to reforest the denuded hills and implement sustainable land-use practices.
It’s all part of the Min River Watershed Water Resource Protection Eco-Compensation Program – one of several “eco-compensation” programs that use investments, incentives, and even market mechanisms to promote healthy watershed stewardship on a grand scale. By implementing these programs nationally, a country notorious for its rigid, centralized government has become the leading proponent worldwide of an approach to conservation that is fine-tuned to match the needs of each watershed and the populations that rely on them.