Beijing, the capital of China, as one of the most modernized city, is facing serous water problems. With a population of over 16 million on an area of 16807.8 km2, water scarcity is most serious here in Beijing. Since 1999, the city has seen droughts for nine years in a row, with an average annual rainfall less than 428 mm. The municipality's two largest reservoirs, Miyun and Guanting, now hold less than ten percent of their original storage capacity and Guanting is so polluted that it hasn't been used as a drink­ing water source since 1997. But due to the po­litical importance of the capital city, people liv­ing in the city of Beijing could seldom feel such water crisis. The central government is taking various measures to ensure water supply of the city, including transfering water from other palces and restricting water use in nearby prov­inces. The South-to-North Water Diversion Project is also regarded as a relief to Beijing's water crisis (the project, which was originally planned to bring water to Beijing in 2010, was delayed for five years).

However, for the general public, especially those who are living in urban areas, the concept of environmental protection and water crisis is quite vague. Clean water is always running from the tap; around the residential district plants and flowers are quite acceptable and delightful. In most cities in China, environmental depart­ments release authoritative data and evaluation about water and air, most of which indicate that the environmental problems are not that severe. Yet from time to time, the public hear about en­vironmental accidents and problems from the media. These add to their doubt about the real conditions of our environment. What's wrong with the water and rivers in Beijing? Bearing this question in mind, in March of 2007, a group of water lovers in Beijing set out to find out the true circumstances of the rivers. That's the be­ginning of Leshuixing, literally meaning «jour­ney for the love of water». In the following three years, over 15 thousand participants joined Le­shuixing in Beijing. Every Saturday, people are guided by water experts, walking along rivers, to see the real water environement.

Leshuixing inspires not only the public's concern about factural water condition around where they live, but also their desire to solve en­vironmental problems. However, limited knowl­edge about the environemnt, environmental policy and related public facilities and industry diminishes the public capacity of judging envi- ronemtal issues, protecting their own rights, and participating in environmental decisioan-mak- ing process. In May, 2009, Leshuixing started up a public environmental class every Sunday, serving as a platform for more comprefensive knowledge for the public to participate in envi­ronmental protection. This indoor environmen­tal class, in accordance with the outdoor river walks, has made Leshuixing a perfect public en­vironmental education model.

The basic form of Leshuixing is walking along rivers, which is called doing river walks. The river walks are divided into two teams, the short-journey team, covering 5 km each time, and the long-journey team, covering 10 km to 20 km a time. We have five basic ob­jectives for the river walks:

      1. Participants stay close to nature, find and feel the beauty and sickness of nature.

      2. Participants understand basic water quality standard and evaluations.

      3. Participants master basic ways to define common environmental problems, with both sensory and monitoring instrument.Partici- pants have a general idea about how the environ­ment and human society influence each other.

      4. Participants have a comprehensive idea about urban water-supply systems.

To achieve these objectives, river experts give instructions about what participants see along the way. The instructions cover more than environemental knowledge. As we under­stand that the environment relates to people in various ways, and that environmental prob­lems root in various aspects of modern society, we selectively choose environment, biology, history, architecture, energy and sociology (as the themes?) and design a highly structured curriculum based on the actual conditions of rivers in Beijing.

Four or five river walks compose a series with a theme. Most of the themes are set ac­cording to different waterbodies. We also have special themes introducing Cultural heritage, eco-tourism, and official waterworks etc.

These themes are designed by experts in Le­shuixing Water Research Center. 70 % of them are professional scholars on related areas. Oth­ers are grassroots experts, who concern much about the river and water environment and have respectable insights on these issues.

For each river walk, participants listen to in­structions, monitor water quality and complete a river report with the help of the experts. They are also encouraged to express their opinions and share their stories on what? This process helps them see a river as an exo-system, appre­ciate cultural heritage of a river and understand the relationship betwwen human society and water.

The diversed curriculum attracts different groups of people, ranging from school children to the retired. Leshuixing has established co­operative relationship with over 30 universities and middle schools in Beijing, offering extra­curricular activities to students?. Students al­together make up 70 % of the participantion. Some of the participants are so active that they become core volunteers and assist in Beijing's Water Research Project — an annual indepen­dent research project by Leshuixing Water Re­search Center.

Leshuixing public environmental class was in the first place meant for public report of Beijing's Water Research Project. In 2008, Leshuixing Water Research Center started an independent research project. Every year, Le- shuixing experts choose four or five topics on specific water issues in Beijing. The 2008 Bei­jing's Water Research includes «Water and sustainable development of Beijing», «Rescue and restore rural ponds in the suburb of Beijing», «The decline of pagodas and towers near rivers — a reflection of cultural diverge on the relation­ship between human and nature» and «A survey on reservoirs in and around Beijing». Public re­ports of these researches were quite success­ful. With an average audience of 30, those re­ports fell into two hours' report on the research and one hour's discussion with the audiences. The audiences, most of which were Leshuix- ing river walkers, were active in the discus­sion section, expressing their own opinions and sharing their own related experiences. We saw a promising public forum for environmental is­sues in these public reports.

There was also a need for seated classes since instructions on river walks were not system - atical enough. And participants also required an occasion allowing them to be a speaker not just a listener. So we made up our mind to es­tablish a platform.

We invite professors, governmental officials, journalists, environmental NGOers to give lec­tures every Sunday afternoon. These lectures go deeper about certain issues, and care about environment on a regional or national or evern global scale. We also host classes in forms of environmental reading club or environmen­tal film club. A three-hour class has at least an hour for discussion, in which everyone is free to express his or her own ideas.

The public environmental class has a more diversed range of audiences. People from dif­ferent backgrouds, including farmers, officials, businessmen, journalists, writers, local resi­dents, NGOers at home and abroad, exchange their ideas here.

The political and legal system of China is not that suitable for citizens to participate in environmental policy-making. There is a gap between the general pubic and those who can influence it. The success of public environmen­tal class inspires us to narrow down this gap.

In December 2009, Beijing municipal gov­ernment announced a public hearing on raising the price of tap water. The hearing was a new thing to Beijingers. Representatives of different groups, altogether 25 people, attended the hear­ing. We invited some experts and social organi­zation members who might be able to attend the hearing and citizens who were concerned about this issue, to Leshuixing public class. They had a heated discussion on raising the tap water price and its influence on ordinary people's life and the development of the city. One of the ex­perts present in our class attended the hearing and proposed the results of our discussion.

Such chance is still rare in Beijing and the whole country. But we see a necessity among different groups of people to learn knowledge about environmental issues and communicate with each other. As a grassroot organization with limited funds and power, our commitment is to serve as a platform between the public and the environment, and between different groups of people, to stimulate public actions on envi­ronmental protection

. Qiuxia Wang1, Xiang Zhang2


1Darwen Institute for Environmental Studies 2Green Earth Volunteers, Beijing, China,

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