The Goal: One Million River Watchers

Liu Sheng has led Green Hunan for over a decade and he is showing no signs of slowing down.

He is currently nurturing a network of River Watchers who monitor the rivers and lakes in his home province of Hunan and nationwide for industrial pollution.

These volunteer citizens patrol assigned territories. When they suspect pollution or other illegal activities, they take photos and collect additional evidence to present to local authorities and to post to social media. This puts pressure on government officials and polluters to clean up pollution swiftly.

Last year, Liu Sheng opened a River Watcher training center to scale up Green Hunan’s successful model. Now, volunteers from across China come here to learn technical skills to identify pollution.

Equally important to the success of Green Hunan and the River Watcher model is the team’s belief that river protection requires collaboration between local volunteers and the government. That’s why they train River Watchers to approach conversations with local government officials in a spirit of collaboration to build mutual trust.

As a result, his River Watchers have become very effective, not only at identifying and reporting pollution but at bringing together different groups of people to brainstorm and implement solutions that prevent future pollution incidents.

Liu Sheng and his colleagues at Green Hunan developed one of the best models for volunteer engagement of any grassroots organization in China. (Liu Sheng, far right, with Pacific Environment's China team)
In China, more than 2 in 3 rivers are so toxic that contact threatens people’s health. City dwellers struggle with polluted drinking water, while rural villagers lack clean water to drink, feed their farm animals, or water their crops.

Win 1: Drinking Water Pollution

Last summer, during a routine field investigation, a River Watcher team in Zhuzhou City in Hunan Province discovered illegal construction that was contaminating drinking water. The volunteers immediately reported the pollution violation to local environmental officials to demand swift action.

The local environmental bureau officials gratefully reviewed the pollution evidence presented by River Watchers and quickly took action against the polluter.

Win 2: Illegal Gold Mining Discharges

Last summer, River Watchers from Zhuzhou and Liling (both in Hunan Province) joined forces with local government officials to conduct a joint investigation of two local gold mining companies.

They discovered that wastewater was being discharged directly into a nearby river. They subsequently published their finding in an investigative report which put pressure on the companies to clean up their act.


River Watchers test for pollution on their return visit one month later. They were happy to report that the water in the nearby river was running almost clean and clear again.

Win 3: Illegal Fishing

On a morning last spring the River Watcher team in Yue Yang (Hunan Province) received tips from the public about illegal fishing activities on Dong Ting Lake.

The local team immediately sprang to action. It convinced the local fisheries bureau to provide support and conducted a river patrol the very same day. The bureau arrested several poachers and together with the team removed all illegal fishing gear.

River Watchers remove illegal fishing gear on Dong Ting Lake in Hunan Province.