The Yellow River law: a framework for integrated river basin management
McMahon, George F.
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The Yellow River (Huang He) is the second largest of China’s rivers, with a catchment area of 795,000km² and a stream length of nearly 5,500 km. The river flows through the cradle of the Chinese civilization, originating in Tibet in western China and passing through nine provinces to the Bohai Sea on the east. The Basin consists of three reaches with distinctive climatic, hydrologic, topographic, soil, and water and land use characteristics. The upper reach extends from desert areas in Qinghai Province to Yinchuan near the Ningxia-Inner Mongolia border, the middle reach downstream through the Loess Plateau into Henan Province, and the lower reach from Zhengzhou through the Yellow River Estuary in Shandong Province. Erosion of the Loess Plateau has aggraded the lower reach of river, and construction of levees for flood control in the lower reach has caused the riverbed to become ‘suspended,’ rising 10-15 meters above the surrounding densely-populated floodplains draining into the Huai and Hai Rivers on either side. The Yellow River Basin is characterized by the most severe combination of flood, erosion and sedimentation, water scarcity and water pollution problems occurring anywhere in the world. Coordinated and integrated management of the Basin’s water resources is vital to China’s economic prosperity and protection of life, property, environmental quality and cultural heritage. The capacity for integrated river basin management (IRBM) is greatly diminished, however, by weaknesses and gaps in the current legal, policy and institutional frameworks for participatory planning. From 2003 – 2004, the author led a team of international and domestic water resources, legal, institutional, and environmental experts assisting the Asian Development Bank, State implementing agencies and a National Steering Committee (NSC) in the analysis of opportunities for IRBM and preparation of a draft Yellow River Law (ADB TA3708-PRC, 2004). The implementing agencies were the China Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) and the Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC). The National Steering Committee (NSC) consisted of these and other State agencies including the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), the State Planning Commission, Ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Land Administration, and representatives of the provincial governments and their administrative departments engaged in management of water and environmental resources. While the draft Law is designed principally to address the unique problems of the Yellow River Basin, it is widely viewed as a prototype for the Yangtze and other river basin laws, and as a major advance in efforts to reform primary water and environmental laws in China. A location map of the Yellow River Basin relative to provincial boundaries is shown in Figure 1, and some of the Basin’s more prominent hydrologic and geographical features are shown in Figure 2.