China Cracks Down on Illegal Wastewater Discharges

Photographer: Hong Wu/Getty Images

Water pollution near Qingdao, China. Close

Water pollution near Qingdao, China.

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Photographer: Hong Wu/Getty Images

Water pollution near Qingdao, China.

Bloomberg BNA — China hopes to deal a “heavy blow” to businesses that illegally discharge wastewater, Premier Li Keqiang said in a special State Council meeting on energy savings and emissions reduction, in remarks posted on the body's website March 24.

Li said the government would “crack down hard” on such activities by businesses and on local officials who have “ignored basic social responsibility and legal liability” by failing to provide adequate oversight of wastewater discharge activities of companies in their jurisdictions.

Only 47.4 percent of the surface water in the country's lakes, rivers and reservoirs can meet water quality standards that make it usable under its functional zoning, Jiao Yong, vice minister of Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), said at a March 21 news briefing.

China categorizes surface water based on its intended use—drinking water, industrial water, agricultural water and landscaping water. Drinking water must comply with the highest standards, landscaping water the lowest.

Jiao said the ministry will curb water pollution, particularly near drinking water resources, by setting new discharge limits and ensuring that local governments address serious water pollution incidents before they lead to public protests.

Water Rights Trading

China also is looking at expanding a water rights trading system piloted in two regions and wants to establish strict water resource management practices beyond areas that have piloted a system of “three red lines”— for total water consumption, total wastewater discharge emissions and water use efficiency targets—MWR officials said at the briefing.

Chen Mingzhong, director of the Water Resource Department under the MWR, said the government wants to expand the water rights trading system piloted in the Ningxia-Hui and Inner Mongolia Autonomous regions to other provinces.

Chen said that should help industry and agriculture increase water use efficiency. Trades on the water rights trading platform started off at around 13 yuan ($2.09) per cubic meter and are now at about 20 yuan per cubic meter, he said.

Jiao said 95 percent of cities and about 700 counties have finished their draft plans on establishing the “three red lines.”

Jiao said the MWR, along with the National Development and Reform Commission and the State Council, would establish a system in 2014 year to assess whether local governments are fulfilling stricter water resource management policies.

An environmental protection official in the Guangxi-Zhuang autonomous region in southern China was recently sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes and covering up the polluting activity of a local mining company, Huiwei-Comprehensive Mining Co., which had contaminated the Ho River with cadmium and thallium, according to a March 19 report from China Environmental News (CEN), a news agency under the MEP.

The official, Huang Qiang, took cash bribes of around 50,000 yuan ($8,000), as well as alcohol, tobacco and other gifts in exchange for renewing the wastewater discharge permits for the company, even though its contamination of the river was leading to increasing fish kills, CEN reported.

The environment in the less developed Guangxi-Zhuang region, which shares a border with Vietnam, has been deteriorating, according to a statement from Tan Qingrui, head of the autonomous region environmental protection department, which appeared on the MEP website March 20. Environmental officials there are crafting special action plans on both water and air pollution, Tan said.

Water Pollution From Industrial Parks

A study conducted by the All-China Environment Federation, a legal organization under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which found serious water pollution problems in industrial parks around the country, will be the focus of proposals the organization is expected to pass to the MEP this year, according to a March 18 report from CEN.

The two-year study of 18 industrial parks in nine provinces found severe water pollution problems. The report faulted localities for promoting the zones as ecological and sustainable while covering up polluting activity.

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