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The Protector Upstream

Grandad Wang lives in Shuitianping village on the banks of Zipingpu reservoir, on the upper reaches of the Min river. He’s 70 years old, with a cheerful and friendly personality. The first time that I met him was in 2009, when rebuilding after the Wenchuan earthquake. Grandad Wang’s house was one of those that needed rebuilding, and CURA professionals went to help him plan some environmentally friendly installations in his new house. I was lucky enough to participate. 


Grandad Wang planned to build his new house near Zipingpu Reservoir. In 2001, the Wenchuan section of the Min river was dammed to create the reservoir. The area is not only the source of irrigation for fifteen thousand square kilometresof fields, but also provides drinking water for the ten million residents of Chengdu. In recent years, pollution from factories, livestock and domestic sewage have all caused serious safety concerns about the quality of the water and the surrounding environment. CURA have always paid close attention to the factory and farming work on the rivers upstream from this reservoir. In choosing Grandad Wang’s house, we were hoping to establish a new model of ecological household and river protection. 


Between 2001 and 2008, he and his family were forced to move three times: once when the dam was built to create the reservoir, once due to local government constructions and once because of the earthquake. During the construction work of the first two times he was relocated, he spent time talking to people from organisations involved in river protection. Inspired by their thoughts on environmental protection, his own understanding of the issue increased. 


After the Wenchuan earthquake, Grandad Wang’s home was about to be built for the third time. He had an idea: he wanted his new home to be the first ecological, environmentally friendly home on the upper reaches of the Min River. Combining his own desires with those of professionals involved in environmental protection, architecture and geology, his wishes were fulfilled. After four years of planning, Grandad Wang’s new house is finally complete. Teacher Chenhong’s team from Sichuan University departments of architecture and anvironment used both earthquake resistant and environmentally friendly wooden construction methods, CURA provided an ecological toilet, methane tank and a manmade wetland, and teachers from Southwest China University of Finance and Economics took students to help Grandad Wang decorate the exterior. 


With a new environmentally friendly home, Grandad Wang developed ecological solutions to making a living, focussing on seeds and livestock, and attended training meetings about environmental protection. He also bought books to study environmental protection, and taught himself photography. He taught people in the village about ecological lifestyles and protecting the water. At the beginning of 2009, he began documenting the Min River, going to the riverbanks every day to observe the changes: the height of the water, whether or not it was murky, whether it had been impacted by pollutants upstream. The old man had lived his entire life on the banks of the Min River, and not only feels a deep affection for it, but also has a deep understanding of its situation. He knows what time during the low water season you need to conserve water, and what time during high water season you should release flood water. If he sees something abnormal, he immediately reports it to the local waterworks company and to CURA. 


Grandad Wang has studied legal knowledge and started to report on nearby factory emissions and domestic waste disposal. In 2014, he reported his findings to the local and higher-level leaders which resulted in the government making a policy decision to ensure that domestic waste was disposed of further away from the Min River. In 2016, due to suggestions made by Grandad Wang, local iron and brick factories closed up and moved away. 


Due to years of planting trees and protecting the river, Grandad Wang has been called a good person of Wenchuan and Aba Regions.  When being interviewed by reporters, he loves to say one particular sentence: 


“You’re on the lower reaches of the Min River, I’m on the upper reaches protecting the water for you.”


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