Dr. Kristin Strock, Environmental Studies

Variation in the Use and Management of Freshwater Resources in the Yunnan Provence: How Culture Influences Sustainable Water Management


As a participant in the 2014 Valley and Ridge program, I was able to explore the current challenges in restoring and protecting the quality of lakes and rivers in the Yunnan Province of China.   In the course of three weeks, I was immersed in the history of water quality in Yunnan as well as the way in which people interact with these resources today.  I am using this information to develop a new module for ENST 335 Analysis and Management of the Aquatic Environment.   In this course, students learn about the physical, chemical and biological properties of lake ecosystems and consider the effects of human manipulations or disturbances on freshwater resources.  The content of this course will be considerably expanded to include a module where students will explore the various ways that freshwater resources are utilized (including examples of both sustainable and unsustainable management) in Yunnan. 

The Valley and Ridge trip in 2014 provided a wealth of information to inform the development of this module.  Zheng Xiaoyun, the president of the international water history association, relayed the difficulty in managing water for different ethnic groups and cultures in this region of China and the pressure that the growth of these cities has placed on water resources.  I was able to observe first-hand the differences in water quality that occur with varying management in the region.  For example, Lake Dianchi, located outside the provincial capital Kunming, was experiencing a noxious and potentially harmful algal bloom.  At the same time, Lake Erhai, located in the city of Dali, had minimal observable algal growth.  This difference is attributed to policy that regulates the development around Lake Erhai and the resulting growth in wetland habitats that can buffer the lake from the effects of urbanization. 

Students will discuss the environmental concepts that led to a recent decline in water quality in this region and will debate different management scenarios for this resource from a variety of perspectives (groups of students will take on the role of either a local farmer, a businessman whose main source of income is tourism, a provincial politician, or a representative from the Chinese Academy of Sciences).  The objective of this project is to facilitate critical analysis of the complex relationships between local communities and freshwater resources.   Students will examine the inherent issues in sustainably managing natural resources for multiple uses.  This examination will include multiple perspectives within a community as well as examples across different cultures.   The case study from Yunnan will be paired with similar case studies from Lake Tanganyika in eastern Africa and the Great Lakes in the mid-western United States.  This will provide an opportunity to contrast and compare how the same environmental problem, climate change, is altering freshwater resources differently across the globe and how it modifies the way local communities interact with lake ecosystems.