At a conference organized by China’s Yangtze River Basin Commission, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Darrin Magee was one of five invited international experts discussing river basin governance and environmental protection.
The Yangtze Commission is the largest of seven basin commissions in China that are responsible for comprehensive planning and management around the country’s major watersheds. The Yangtze forum, sponsored by Hubei Province and the ministries of water resources and environmental protection, explored conservation and restoration, energy, development and flood control.
Framed as a case study, Magee’s talk focused on the Colorado River and Columbia River, the two U.S. rivers “most relevant for the Chinese situation right now,” he explains. “They are both very long rivers and have a series of hydroelectric dams over the course of several hundred miles. Lots of Chinese rivers are in the midst of developing multi-dam cascades that will have significant long lasting implications for the health of the rivers and the human and ecological systems around them.”
These factors — which Magee and his students explore in the courses “Environmental Studies 101: Energy” and “Environment and Development in East Asia” — reflect the conflicting goals of China’s energy policy.
In addition to a large investment in wind and solar energy solutions, hydroelectricity “is part and parcel of China’s energy strategy going forward,” Magee says. And while Chinese leadership “understands the risks of climate change and funds a lot of science into researching the impacts, they also often take an engineering approach to fixing those impacts. Alongside the hydropower benefits, which are not insignificant, I tried to point out the unintended consequences that have arisen from those hydroelectric cascades.”
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Beth Kinne was also invited to present at the forum due to her expertise on water law and water rights. In the past she has conducted research on the legal bases in Chinese property law for a water rights system. She was unable to attend the Forum due to logistical reasons.
A specialist on environmental issues in China, Magee has lived and worked in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. His research and teaching address water, energy and waste issues including large-scale hydropower and other water infrastructure. He holds a Ph.D. in geography and an M.A. in China studies from the University of Washington, along with a B.S. in mathematics and B.A. in French from Louisiana State University. He joined the HWS faculty in 2008.