Climate and Environmental Change

Healthy river and its indication, criteria and standards

  • 1. College of Water Sciences, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China|
    2. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China|
    3. Yellow River Conservancy Commission, Zhengzhou 450003, China

Received date: 2008-05-29

  Revised date: 2008-08-06

  Online published: 2009-02-25

Supported by

Chinese National Research Program, No.2006BAB06B; National Key Basic Research Development Program of China “973”, No.G1999043601


Based on the author’s practice in river harnessing, this paper defines that a healthy river is a river whose social and natural functions can be balanced or compromised in terms of the socio-economic, ecological and environmental values associated with the river. The environmental values of river systems should be judged according to the following criteria: the signal of a healthy river should be associated with favorable riverbed, acceptable water quality, sustainable river ecosystem and compatible runoff. The river health criterion should reflect the river’s natural function status which includes the riverbed, water quality, river ecosystem and runoff. But, the variety and quantity would be different for different rivers depending on different natural features and social background. The standards to be adopted for a healthy river should be determined according to the requirements for maintaining river’s normal natural functions and the extent whether the social and natural functions could perform in a balanced way, and also the standards adopted should be adjusted according to the change of the given conditions. The key factor of river health is the enough and clean flow. The authors stressed that human activities would hurt the river health which include excessive water diversion and excessive power generation from the river, improper regulation of flood and sediment, and over discharge of sewage into the river and over change in fish habitat. Taking the Yellow River as a case, this paper also discussed the method to identify what are the standards of a healthy river as well as environmental flows.

Cite this article

LIU Changming, LIU Xiaoyan . Healthy river and its indication, criteria and standards[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2009 , 19(1) : 3 -11 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-009-0003-6