Youth Environmental Leadership Program

Bazhu Watershed Protection

The “Bazhu Community-based Watershed Research and Protection” project was designed to facilitate and demonstrate a process of community-based learning and action in sustainable river basin management. Funded by the NGS Air and Water Conservation Fund, this one-year project started in August 2013 in Bazhu, a Tibetan community made up of 21 villages located along the Bazhu River in Weixi County, Diqing Prefecture in northwest Yunnan Province.

Bazhu River is around 15 km in length and is a unique watershed surrounded by 88 square kilometers of one of the most bio-diverse forests in the world. It flows into a tributary of the Yangtze (Jinsha Jiang). This area located in the UNESCO world heritage site, the Three Parallel Rivers, is of great ecological importance. This region is also an area of great cultural diversity with local ethnic minorities including Tibetan, Naxi, Yi and many others.

Due to rapid economic growth, residents are no longer solely dependent on local resources, and traditional customs are being replaced by a more consumerist lifestyle. As a result, new challenges arise such as soil erosion, river pollution, and other environment problems caused by increased use of agricultural chemicals, illegal logging, and overuse of natural resources. Through focusing on community-based watershed monitoring and protection, the project was able to build the individual and institutional capacity of Bazhu community to protect the Bazhu River.


In several workshops at Bazhu Community Learning Center the local community was engaged, highlighting the role of indigenous knowledge, traditional practices and cultural values relating to water conservation, to promote understanding of the importance of the watershed, basic scientific methods and approaches to watershed conservation.

A permanent River Care Leadership Team was established to explore, monitor and preserve the watershed. All results were shared with and explained to villagers at the Bazhu Community Learning Center.


58 students and teachers, alongside Shangri-la Institute staff, implemented a community river care project activity. Among other achievements, a total of 7 environmentally friendly watermills were renovated, benefitting the entire community.

Various community-initiated water care actions were organized among 72 members of the Bazhu Association for Elderly People. At the same time, indigenous conservation knowledge and local legends about sacred mountains and holy rivers were collected among the elders.

Documenting both the traditional preservation and the improvements of the project, a Book on Bazhu Watershed Care was drafted with the assistance of Waterschool China, another SISC project.


The motivated community participation in every activity, the increasing number of project beneficiaries, and community members’ calls for further project development are evidence that the project was successful and that it has achieved its purpose with the consent of the locals.

Through capacity building workshops and new infrastructure, through the Community Learning Center and newly established organizational structures, locals are now able to protect their watershed and other natural resources by using their traditional belief systems in combination with learned scientific knowledge. The project has demonstrated successfully how local communities can become a major force in watershed protection.

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