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The Miyun Watershed


Miyun WatershedThe Miyun reservoir is the largest artificial lake in Asia and considered a highlight in the Yanshan mountains. The Miyun watershed spans an area of 15,788 square kilometres and a maximum storage capacity of 4.375 billion cubic metres. There are two rivers flowing into the Miyun Reservoir: the northwestern branch called Bai He and the north-eastern branch called Chao He which are supplying the reservoir with its water. Originally designed for flood prevention, electricity generation, agricultural irrigation and aquaculture, it had to step up its game when during the 1980s Beijing’s groundwater began to diminish and the quality of Guanting reservoir’s water degraded so much that it was not suitable for human consumption anymore. By 1999, the Miyun Reservoir was supplying 490 million cubic metres of water to the capital and was Beijing’s only source of surface water.


Miyun Reservoir

Miyun Reservoir

Water for Beijing

The available per capita water usage in Beijing has dropped to 100 cubic meters, much lower than the internationally acknowledged warning line of 1,000 cubic meters per capita, according to the Beijing Water Authority. The water shortage in Beijing has touched water crisis level. Water supply for Beijing depends on surface water, underground water and water diverted from the outside. The water table also dropped rapidly in part of Beijing, it is impossible to use more underground water. Though the city will receive some 1 billion cubic meters of water each year from the South-to North Water Diversion Project, it cannot meet the annual shortage of 1.5 billion cubic meters. The situation urges a better use and protection of reservoirs around Beijing. The Miyun Reservoir, the largest of its kind in north China, is the primary source of drinking water for Beijing residents, and provides more than 60% of the capital’s surface drinking water.

Miyun’s Environmental Challenges

In the 1970s and 1980s the government led large-scale afforestation programs in the watershed in order to reduce erosion and therefore the sediment flow into the reservoir. While these have been largely successful, biodiversity and naturalness of the area have been comprimised over the years as the afforestation projects established single-species monocultures. Nowadays most of the landscape is a mixture of plantations and naturally regenerated vegetation. The natural vegetation, however, due to the degradation of the landscape is itself also often degraded and because of the thin soils stays in a degraded shrubland stage instead of developing into a forest. BFS has started first pilot projects to transform the monocultures into more natural forests but the Miyun watershed covers a large area and much remains to be done.

The Miyun watershed lies in the northeastern edge of the China plain and borders the Mongolian plateau. It is a comparatively dry region with only 549mm of precipitation per year which gets less towards the northwest. It is also experiencing up to 50% of fluctiations in terms of the amount of rain it gets. In recent year the area has been experiencing a drought, so that the precipitation has been closer to the 400s than the 500s.

It is dominated by broadleaf and mixed forest, with substantial areas of degraded shrubland remnants. In general, there is a relatively higher proportion of planted forest in Miyun County (reflecting a higher historical level of investment in tree planting), while regenerating natural forest dominates in Hebei Province.

More than 70% of the forests in the Miyun landscape are designated ‘protection’ forests. This means that human access and use are strictly controlled, and that they are managed to safeguard important ecosystem services such as watershed protection, soil and water conservation and biodiversity. In reality however, people are still extracting a limited amount of fuelwood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) from forests.

Forest-Based Income Contribution to Household Income





Political Challenges

The Miyun watershed encompasses two provinces – Hebei and Beijing province. Only ⅓ of the watershed lies in Beijing municipality while ⅔ lie in Hebei. This creates problems as the majority of the benefits the governmental regulations provide go to Beijing while its burden is lying mainly in Hebei. Furthermore the proximity to the city of Beijing and the higher precipitation also raises the average income of a village significantly, further disadvantaging communities in Hebei.  Beijing villagers have greater income generated from the forest compared to Hebei, mainly due to Beijing government-driven subsidies (forest warden salaries) and higher incomes from orchard harvests due to proximity to urban markets.

Steps are now being taken to decrease the inequality but it is a long and slow process.


These comprise the 1 million or so, mainly rural, residents of the Miyun watershed. Their main interest is in maintaining and improving an adequate and secure livelihood base, at the same time as conserving the lands and resources upon which they have long depended.

These comprise the 17 million residents of Beijing City, and associated industries, businesses and institutions. Their main interest is in securing current and future water supplies and other ecosystem benefits (e.g. clean air and biodiversity), as well as enhancing the forests’ recreational values.

These comprise the many different agencies that are responsible for setting and implementing policy, running programmes, and governing land, resource and development processes in Beijing City and the Miyun watershed. This stakeholder group includes various levels of administration (from village committees, through county and municipal governments, to central line agencies), as well as diverse sectors (including forestry, water, rural development, infrastructure and economic planning). Their main interests are to maximize or optimize watershed management according to the spatial or sectoral mandate and development goals that they have been charged to deliver.

These comprise the universities, research institutes and think tanks that generate data about the Miyun watershed to support decision and policy making. Their main interests are in shaping the project interventions and policy debates surrounding the landscape.


The Miyun watershed is not a landscape devoid of people. In fact, many smaller villages exist within the watershed. And while the government has been successful in banning many harmful factories in order to improve water quality, the same cannot and should not be done with the people living there. While many restrictions apply to those villages like a ban on large-scale animal husbandry or the general logging ban in most parts, the government, BFS and many other NGOs are working with the local communities there on creating livelihoods that will not impact water quality while at the same time increase standards of living. Learn more.

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