The Living Water Garden

China – The Living Water Garden , Chengdu City,  Sichuan Province, Project 1995 – 1999,  Betsy Damon

On a 1995 trip to Chengdu, Damon was introduced to the Chengdu City Government’s five-year plan to clean up the Fu and Nan Rivers that merge there. Having founded Keepers of the Water, she was already devoted to communicating the significance of water. She suggested the city add a water garden to help clean the river and to educate people about water, conservation, and treatment. They asked her to coordinate this.

Working with local specialists and Philadelphia-based landscape designer Margie Ruddick, she completed a conceptual design that included innovative Flowform® designs, based on the Flowform® invention of John Wilkes. It was built by The Chengdu Fu & Nan Rivers Comprehensive Revitalization Project, a five-year plan to rebuild Chengdu’s infrastructure to support its growing population for the next 200 years.

The 5.9-acre (2.4 ha) public park is located on the Fu and Nan rivers, an ancient river diversion system designed and constructed in 250 B.C. The vision of environmental artist and founder of Keepers of the Waters Betsy Damon, this international award winning park is a fully functioning water treatment plant, a giant sculpture in the shape of a fish (symbol of regeneration in Chinese culture), a living environmental education center, a refuge for wildlife and plants, and a wonderful place for people. Since its completion in 1998, it has become the most popular park in the city and is on the national tourist registry.

Each day, 200 cubic meters of polluted river water move through the natural treatment system and emerge clean enough to drink. This amount of water is not enough to affect the river water quality as a whole; its purpose is teaching and inspiration, which it does very successfully. Visitors can walk everywhere in the park, delighting in the many birds, butterflies and dragonflies that have taken up residence there and observing the once dead river water become alive again. Because of the visible and understandable treatment system, people can clearly see the water becoming cleaner and cleaner.

Other features of the park include an underground parking garage, environmental education center, and a circular stone amphitheater facing the river for concerts and other activities. There is also an extensive forested areas made up of more than 100 different plant species (some rare) to represent the biodiversity on Mt Emei, a sacred Buddhist mountain located 160 kilometers outside Chengdu. There are also two places where steps replaced the floodwall, giving visitors a way to reach the river.

The Park has formed the basis for other regeneration projects in China.