Producing the New Water Margin: Fixing the Buffer Zone of China’s Largest Drinking Water Reservoir

Dr Vanessa Lamb1, Dr Sarah Rogers1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Central China’s Danjiangkou Reservoir provides an important environmental service: clean drinking water for Beijing, Tianjin, and other northern cities supplied by the Middle Route of the South-North Water Transfer Project. To achieve high quality water, an alliance of state and non-state actors is intervening to strictly manage the Reservoir’s “buffer zone” (the extent of the Reservoir’s water-level fluctuations). In this buffer zone a collection of governance tools has been mobilised to protect and enhance the Reservoir’s water quality. In this paper we examine how these tools come together to fix place (through elevation mapping and physical infrastructure), fix plants (by replacing smallholder crops with “ecological” reeds, fruit trees, and willows typically managed by agribusinesses), and fix pollution (through detailed zoning and displacement, as well as environmental infrastructure to stop pollution flows). We argue that this attempt to render the Danjiangkou landscape technical is incomplete and contested, and yet has the effect of fixing profit and marginalising smallholders, by positioning agribusiness as best able to prevent flows of pollution.


Dr Sarah Rogers is a Lecturer in the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne. She is a human geographer who studies hydropolitics, agrarian change, and poverty alleviation in China.

Dr Vanessa Lamb is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, University of Melbourne. She is a human geographer researching human-environment interactions, international water politics, and political ecology of Southeast Asia.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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