Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Stanford Research Shows China's Clean-Water Program Benefits People and the Environment

Published: Monday, September 09, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, September 09, 2013
Bookmark and Share
For the past four years China has been paying farmers to grow corn instead of rice, an effort that is paying off for people and the environment.

The brown, smog-filled skies that engulf Beijing have earned China a poor reputation for environmental stewardship. But despite China's dirty skies, a study led by Stanford environmental scientists has found that a government-run clean water program is providing substantial benefit to millions of people in the nation's capital.

The Miyun reservoir, 100 miles north of Beijing, is the main water source for the city's more than 20 million inhabitants. Greater agricultural demands and a decline in precipitation, among other factors, have cut the reservoir's output by two-thirds since the 1960s. The water has also become increasingly polluted by fertilizer and sediment run-off, and poses a significant health risk.

Similar conditions shut down Beijing's second largest reservoir in 1997; shortly after, officials began implementing a plan to prevent the same from happening to the Miyun reservoir.

The system follows the successful model established by New York City, in which the government and wealthier downstream consumers provide payouts to upstream farmers, who in turn modify their agricultural practices to improve water conditions.

In the case of China's Paddy Land-to-Dry Land (PLDL) program, farmers are paid to convert their croplands from rice to corn, a solution that reduces both water consumption and pollution. Rice paddies are constantly flooded and are often situated on steep slopes, leading to significant fertilizer and sediment runoff. Corn, meanwhile, requires much less water, and fertilizer is more likely to stay in the soil.

Improving rural life

The program is indicative of China's recent efforts to improve living conditions for its rural citizens.

"At the top, China sees environmental protection and poverty alleviation as vital to national security," said Gretchen Daily, a biology professor at Stanford and senior co-author on the study. "The challenge is in implementing change.  It's amazing that in four short years, the government got everyone growing rice in this area to switch to corn, which greatly improved both water quality and the quantity that reaches city residents downstream."

Farmers earn almost six times more money growing rice than corn, so the government compensated farmers with funds that more than made up the difference. Door-to-door surveys revealed that the compensation program had mostly improved peoples' livelihoods. Farmers were making more money and, because corn is a less time-intensive crop to grow, they had more time to pursue other activities.

Water quality tests showed that fertilizer runoff declined sharply while the quantity available to downstream users in Beijing and surrounding areas increased.

Even with overpaying for corn, the program provides a significant net benefit. The program cost about $1,330 per hectare of farmland to implement, but produced $2,020 per hectare of benefits, calculated as the value of increased water yield and improved water quality. (A hectare is equal to 2.47 acres.)

The researchers calculated that people on both ends of the deal were receiving similar returns: upstream landowners were experiencing a 1.2 benefit-cost ratio and downstream consumers were experiencing a 1.3 benefit-cost ratio. Altogether, the program has generated a 1.5 benefit-cost ratio.

Bigger gains possible

Daily thinks the returns could be better still.

"The work here shows there has been a win-win," said Daily, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "But we hope to refine the process to get bigger win-wins, where we improve the monetary investment for people upstream and downstream, and also improve the natural capital underpinning rural livelihoods and services to urban areas."

For instance, there are some areas along the river that contribute too much fertilizer runoff. An unexpected consequence of the payouts was that some farmers, flush with cash, over-fertilized their fields to boost crop yields. The program is now using RIOS, software developed at Stanford by the Natural Capital Project, to pinpoint high-risk areas. In these spots, Daily said, it might make sense to provide farmers additional compensation funds to make even more drastic changes, if doing so would significantly improve the overall water quality picture.

The PLDL could serve as a model for similar programs already underway throughout Latin America and Africa. One of the key drivers of the PLDL's success, Daily said, was the government's willingness to adapt the program on the fly to meet the needs of the farmers. For example, while other compensation schemes have set hard long-term payout limits, when conditions in Miyun changed and farmers said they weren't being fairly compensated, China upped the payments.

Although such projects are typically instituted based on the cold calculus that land remediation is a better long-term solution and less expensive than filtration plants – indeed, such considerations drove the PLDL – Daily said that an added benefit is the opportunity to restore the natural landscape and other benefits that come from it.

Still, despite the many clear positives coming out of the PLDL so far, implementing these programs requires sensitive considerations. 

"When is it right to tell people that they've got to change their way of life for the benefit of society?" Daily said. "These are tough political and ethical issues, and it doesn't always make sense for everyone. Yet resource pressures are intensifying everywhere. We've got to find ways of compensating people that are fair, and of opening new opportunities. In most cases, there will be no simple, ideal solution, as we can see with the controversy over New York City's approach. These efforts underway in China today are important experiments with lessons for cities everywhere."

The study was published in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report was co-authored by Hua Zheng and Zhi-Yun Ouyang of The Chinese Academy of Sciences; Brian Robinson of McGill University; Yi-Cheng Liang and Mary Ruckelshaus of the Natural Capital Project; Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota and the Natural Capital Project; and Dong-Chun Ma and Feng-Chun Wang of the Beijing Water Science and Technology Institute.


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,900+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 5,300+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Water Dynamics Affect Coral Reefs
Understanding what aids or degrades these ecosystems can help focus conservation efforts on reefs that are most likely to survive global warming.
Monday, September 19, 2016
New Method of Cancer Immunotherapy
Stanford chemists have dicovered a new form of cancer immunotherapy using sugar presence manipulation.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Bone Marrow Transplants Without Using Chemotherapy
Scientists have devised a way to destroy blood stem cells in mice without using chemotherapy or radiotherapy, both of which have toxic side effects.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Mapping Antibody Creation in Humans
Researchers have created the first, detailed map of the body's antibody production, which could suggest new treatment options for immune disorders.
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Rapidly Generating Bone, Heart Muscle
A new study shows that combining positive and negative signals can quickly and efficiently steer stem cells down complex developmental pathways to become specialized tissues that could be used in the clinic.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
New Treatment for Rare Blood Cancers
Drug called midostaurin showed promise in an international clinical trial led by a Stanford physician.
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Guided Chemotherapy Missiles to Target Cancer Cells
Latching chemotherapy drugs onto proteins that seek out tumors could provide a new way of treating tumors in the brain or with limited blood supply that are hard to reach with traditional chemotherapy.
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Link Between Canned Food, BPA Exposure Revealed
New Stanford research resolves the debate on the link between canned food and exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical known as Bisphenol A, or BPA.
Friday, July 01, 2016
Guided Chemotherapy Missiles
Latching chemotherapy drugs onto proteins that seek out tumors could provide a new way of treating tumors in the brain or with limited blood supply that are hard to reach with traditional chemotherapy.
Monday, June 20, 2016
New Imaging Method Reveals Nanoscale Details about DNA
Enhancement to super-resolution microscopy shows orientation of individual molecules, providing a new window into DNA’s structure and dynamics.
Monday, June 20, 2016
$10M Grant Funds Infection-Focused Center
The new center will explore intracellular and intercellular processes by which salmonella bacteria, responsible for more than 100 million symptomatic infections annually, infect immune cells.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
Resurrecting an Abandoned Drug
Previously discarded drug shows promise in helping human cells in a lab dish fight off two different viruses.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Fracking's Impact on Drinking Water Sources
A case study of a small Wyoming town reveals that practices common in the fracking industry may have widespread impacts on drinking water resources.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Imaging Cells and Tissues Under the Skin
First technique developed for viewing cells and tissues in three dimensions under the skin.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Glucose-Guzzling Immune Cells May Drive Coronary Artery Disease
Researchers at Stanford University have found excessive glucose uptake by inflammatory immune cells called macrophages, which reside in arterial plaques, may be behind coronary artery disease.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Scientific News
Big Genetics in BC: The American Society for Human Genetics 2016 Meeting
Themes at this year's meeting ranged from the verification, validation, and sharing of data, to the translation of laboratory findings into actionable clinical results.
Stem Cells in Drug Discovery
Potential Source of Unlimited Human Test Cells, but Roadblocks Remain.
Cancer Genetics: Key to Diagnosis, Therapy
When applied judiciously, cancer genetics directs caregivers to the right drug at the right time, while sparing patients of unnecessary or harmful treatments.
BGI Sequences Gingko Tree, Revealing Large, Highly Repetitive Genome
Researchers at BGI have sequenced the more than 10-gigabase ginkgo genome to find a high number of repetitive sequences as well as a number of gene clusters that appear to be involved in defense mechanisms.
Survey of New York City Soil Uncovers Medicine-Making Microbes
Microbes have long been an invaluable source of new drugs. And to find more, we may have to look no further than the ground beneath our feet.
Accelerating the Detection of Foodborne Bacterial Outbreaks
The speed of diagnosis of foodborne bacterial outbreaks could be improved by a new technique developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Making Personalized Medicine a Reality
Groundbreaking technique developed at McMaster University is helping to pave the way for advances in personalized medicine.
Scientists Identify Unique Genomic Features in Testicular Cancer
The findings may shed light on factors in other cancers that influence their sensitivity to chemotherapy.
Top 10 Life Science Innovations of 2016
2016 has seen the release of some truly innovative products. To help you digest these developments, The Scientist have listed their top picks for the year.
BioCision Forms MedCision
The new company will focus on technologies for the management and automation of vital clinical processes.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

SELECTBIO Market Reports
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,900+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
5,300+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!