China will from late 2016 ban industrial plants, paper mills and refineries that pollute the country’s water supplies, part of a wider plan to improve rivers, lakes, coasts and aquifers that have become chronically degraded following decades of breakneck economic growth.

Under the long-awaited ‘Ten-point water plan’, China’s cabinet said it aims to lift the share of good quality water, ranked at national standard three or above, to more than 70% by 2020 in seven major river basins including the Yellow and Yangtze.

The plan also wants at least 93% of urban drinking water supply to be at least level three by the end of the decade, and calls for comprehensive supervision of water quality from source to tap by local governments, performance that will be reviewed by central government and made public.

The plan said impact on water supplies will become a key consideration on whether to permit industrial plants, adding that it will restrict building of petrochemical and metal refining along major rivers.

“We will fully consider the capacity of our water resources and environment, and determine city planning, project location, population and industrial output according to water reserves,” China’s cabinet said in comments reported by Reuters.

China’s government has already blocked industrial projects – such as coal gasification plants – on the basis they will use large amounts of water or pollute supplies.

Around 60% of China’s underground water supplies are said to be polluted, while much of the drinking water in rural areas is unfit for human consumption because of pollution from fertilisers, pesticides and industrial activity.

Enforcing the proposals in China’s water plan will be critical to their success, as will ensuring clear responsibility for meeting targets, says Liu Hongqiao of China Water Risk (CWR) and a contributor to chinadialogue.

This is particularly important as previous targets on improving water supply haven’t been met, and analysts say the plan will need to be scaled up in the coming years if China is to get to grips with its worsening water crisis.

(For the CWR article click here)

However, the passing of a new environmental law earlier this year, and a crackdown on corrupt officials who have encouraged polluting industries, may mean that the new water plan bears sharper teeth as the government aims to deliver on its “war on pollution”.

Last month, the China National Petroleum Corporation agreed to pay 100 million yuan (US$16 million) in compensation following claims its leaked benzene into the municipal water system in Lanzhou, northeast China.

A series of articles on China’s water crisis written by China Water Risk and republished by chinadialogue can be found through the following links:

Who is responsible for China’s water?

China set to miss safe rural drinking water targets

China’s drinking water faces scrutiny in 2015

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