E-flows and Dams

E-flows and Sustainable Hydropower Development

Environmental Flows (E-flows) refer to water within a river, wetland or coastal zone that serves to maintain ecosystems and provides benefits to people.

In 2009, WWF China worked with the Yangtze Water Resources Commission and the Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC) to conduct E-flow research and to co-organize workshops.

We also cooperated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) on the report Research on the Impacts on the Water Birds and Its Habitats along the Central and Lower Yangtze by the Three Gorges Dam, which discussed ways to mitigate the negative impact the dam is having on the area’s water birds. Meanwhile, the dam’s overall influence on the river’s ecosystems was also examined at the Yangtze River Three Gorges Project and Water Resources Development and Protection symposium in October 2008.

Based on the findings and conclusions of previous and ongoing E-flows research, WWF China is planning to publish a comprehensive report on China’s Environmental Flows Research and Practice. The report is expected to propose the framework and methods of E-flows assessment in China and to provide guidance on E-flows assessment and management for different river basins.

In 2010, WWF China and the state-owned Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC) signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding in 2010 after three years of cooperation, aiming to further cooperation on sustainable hydropower protocol and environmental flows.
© WWF China
China's Three Gorges Dam is the World's largest hydropower project.
© WWF China

River-Lake Connectivity

The Yangtze River is the world’s third longest, with its basin covering an area of 1.8 million km². The vast area of the Central and Lower Yangtze once acted as a natural sponge to soak up flood waters during the rainy season. However, dyke and embankment building along the river has seriously disrupted natural processes across the basin. The natural links of more than 100 lakes have been cut off from the Yangtze during the last five decades due to unsustainable practices such as land reclamation, dyke building, and over populated urban settlements along its waters. This has greatly disrupted the Yangtze, once a vibrant, complex network of river, wetlands and lakes.

The WWF-HSBC Yangtze Programme has been working to restore the 'web of life' along the Yangtze River since 2002. In addition to re-linking isolated lakes and introducing fish fry at Zhangdu Lake, Hong Lake and Tian’e-Zhou Oxbow in Hubei Province and Baidang Lake in Anhui Province, the project is also helping to restore wetland habitats for displaced migratory and endemic birds and fish, reduce water pollution and establish key protected areas for the region’s most endangered species. The project is introducing sustainable alternative livelihoods, such eco-fisheries, eco-tourism, and growth of aquatic vegetables, for local communities.

As of June 2010, more than 30 lakes were seasonally re-connected with the Yangtze River in Hubei, Jiangxi, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Our goal is by 2011, more than 50 lakes will be seasonally reconnected to restore environmental flows between rivers and lakes. This network of reconnected rivers and lakes will ultimately provide 1.5 billion cubic meters of flood storage and 3,000 square kilometers of habitat for about 170 fish species in the central and lower Yangtze.