The Yangtze is the largest river basin in China and home to over 400 million people. In recent history, and especially during 1950s–1970s, extensive lakes and floodplains were reclaimed as polders for agriculture and rural development. Consequently, the flood retention capacity was decreased, many lakes were disconnected from the main channel of the Yangtze by embankments and sluice gates, and eutrophication was common. It is anticipated that there will be a greater frequency of extreme floods and droughts in the basin according to climate change scenarios. WWF commenced a programme in 2002 in partnership with government agencies and local communities to reconnect three lakes (Zhangdu, Hong and Tian-e-zhou) in Hubei Province to the river by opening sluice gates seasonally and improving lake management. The resilience of the lake environment to climate change and the livelihoods of local people were enhanced. The measures assessed here highlight: (a) the need for adaptation programmes to concurrently improve livelihoods and reduce exposure to physical risks; (b) the need to build the capacity of people and institutions; and (c) the value of decentralized adaptation as compared with new infrastructure investments.