International Water Conference Inspires Flow of Ideas

Satellite view of Beijing, one of the world's mega cities. Photo by NASA.
Satellite view of Beijing, one of the world’s mega cities. Photo by NASA.

Increasing demands for water combined with changes in climate pose great challenges to both water quantity and quality, especially in “mega cities” where millions of people depend on a clean and adequate water supply. A U.S. Forest Service scientist is lending his expertise to help decision makers ensure sustainable water supplies for people, as well as ecosystems and economic development, across the world’s largest metropolitan areas.

Ge Sun, research hydrologist with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, is serving as a co-chair for an international conference devoted to the exploration of water issues in mega cities (generally, those with populations of at least 10 million people). The September conference, “Water for Mega Cities: Challenges and Solutions,” will take place in Beijing, China, and is co-sponsored by the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) and Beijing Hydraulic Engineering Society.   

SRS research hydrologist Ge Sun. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
SRS research hydrologist Ge Sun. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

The mega city of Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and is home to more than 19 million people. “Like many other mega cities, Beijing and surrounding areas in northern China are facing tremendous water shortages. This represents one of the most water stressed regions in the world,” says Sun.

The Chinese government has undertaken the unprecedented South-North Water Transfer Project to address the growing threat of water shortages. Through feats of engineering costing tens of billions of dollars, the project will divert water from the Yangtze River in the south to supply the northern part of the country, including Beijing. “Because of its water issues and its importance as the political, cultural, and educational center of China, Beijing is an ideal host city for the Water for Mega Cities conference,” says Sun.

Scientists, engineers, water planners and managers, policymakers, and stakeholders representing a variety of institutions are expected to attend the conference. Research, ideas, and experiences shared at the conference will help support water planning and management in mega cities to address and prevent water supply problems. Conference organizers have accepted more than 130 abstracts for oral and poster presentations, and plan to publish conference proceedings in a special issue of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Sun, a longtime member of AWRA and Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, has been involved in organizing the conference since 2011. Through collaborative research with the US-China Carbon Consortium and knowledge sharing with scientists in the Sino-Ecologists Association Overseas, Sun has also contributed to a greater understanding of water cycles in Chinese ecosystems.

A native of China, Sun was born in a village about 100 miles east of Beijing. “I have seen rivers where I used to play that have stopped flowing, and wells have dried up in my hometown during the past 3 decades that coincided with the economic boom in China. I am very much motivated to do something about the situation, and I am pleased that AWRA and Forest Service are willing to sponsor this important international conference in Beijing,” he says.

In addition to his role as conference co-chair, Sun will be very involved in the exchange of ideas at the conference. “There is much demand for knowledge about forest management for sustaining urban water supplies and other ecosystem services,” says Sun. “With increasing urbanization in the United States and China, we need to know more about how forests contribute to water quantity and quality in cities, including mega cities. We have a lot to learn in this area, and a meeting like this one is useful to scientists and managers to identify research needs and find solutions to water management challenges.”

 For more information: Ge Sun, gesun@fs.fed.us or 919-515-9498.

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