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New ‘Water Ten Plan’ to Safeguard China’s Waters

China’s most comprehensive water policy to date, which will ultimately transform China’s environment & economy 

16 April 2015, State Council issued the ‘Water Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan’ (or known as the “Water Ten Plan”). This new plan is the result of coordination & inputs from more than 12 ministries and government departments, including Ministry of Environment Protection, National Development & Reform Commission,  Ministry of Science & Technology, Ministry of Industry & Information Technology, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Land & Resources, Ministry of Housing & Urban-Rural Development, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, National Health & Family Planning Commission and State Oceanic Administration.

The plan sets out 10 general measures which can be broken down to 38 sub-measures with deadlines with responsible government departments identified for each action. In general, the plan covers the following four broad actions:

  • Control pollution discharge, promote economic & industrial transformation and save & recycle resources;
  • Promote science & technology progress, use market mechanisms and enforce law & regulations;
  • Strengthen management & ensure water environment safety; and
  • Clarify responsibilities & encourage public participation.

In total, there are 238 specific actions involved. This is probably the most comprehensive water policy to date. Some key targets and actions are listed below:

Overall objectives & targets

  • By 2020, China’s water environment quality will gradually improve;
    • To greatly reduce the percentage of badly polluted water bodies – over 70% of water in 7 key rivers shall reach Grade III or above (more here);
    • To improve the quality of drinking water – over 93% of urban drinking water sources shall reach Grade III or above (more here);
    • To reduce groundwater over extraction and control groundwater pollution – groundwater falling under “very bad” category shall decrease to around 15%  (more here);
    • To improve the environmental quality of coastal areas – up to 70% of coastal water shall reach Grade I or II;
    • Improve urban water environment in key regions – the amount of Grade V+ water in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei shall fall by 15%, and Grade V+ water shall be eliminated in Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta;
    • By 2030, the over quality of the ecological environment will be improved; and
    • By the middle of 21st century, the quality of the ecological environment should be fully improved and the ecosystem should realise a virtuous cycle.

Key focus water bodies & areas

  • 7 key rivers: Yangtze, Yellow, Pearl, Songhua, Huai, Hai & Liao River;
  • 9 key coastal bays;
  • 3 key regions: Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta & Pearl River Delta; and
  • 36 key cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing, 27 provincial capitals & 5 cities specifically designated in the state plan (including Dalian, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shenzhen & Xiamen).

For some actions, the 3 key regions are required to meet the targets one year before the national deadline.

Polluting industries under spotlight

The new plan puts tough controls on polluting industries with emission limits and provides stricter supervision from authorities and the public. It has also listed targeted industries:

  • Small factories in 10 industries shall comply with relevant national policy, standards & industrial regulation by the end of 2016; otherwise they will be shut down:
    • Paper & pulp;
    • Leather;
    • Textile dyeing;
    • Dyes production;
    • Coking;
    • Sulphur smelting;
    • Arsenic smelting;
    • Oil refineries;
    • Electro-plating;
    • Pesticide production;
  • The following 10 major polluting industries are targeted for technological upgrades, emission reductions and to achieve clean production:
    • Paper & Pulp;
    • Coking;
    • Nitrogen Fertiliser;
    • Textile Dyeing & Finishing;
    • Agriculture Food Production & Processing;
    • Pharmacy Production;
    • Leather;
    • Pesticide;
    • Electro-plating; and
    • Non-ferrous Metals.

Some of the above industries as well as other industries have also been targeted for other action in the plan (more here).

Moreover, the plan also covers pollution control, water efficiency improvement in agriculture, municipal water use, coastal water management and overall ecological environment protection. Controlling total water use to stay within the Three Red Lines is key. To stay within the 2020 cap of 670 billion  m3 of water use the Water Ten Plan uses a mix of water efficiency targets and market mechanisms such as water tariff reform, revised water fees, credit financing and environment performance and eco compensation.

The government expects the new plan to boost GDP by around RMB5.7 trillion and to result in RMB1.9 trillion of new investment in the environmental protection related industries (in which RMB1.4 trillion will go to purchasing products & services) and create 3.9 million new  non-agriculture jobs.

For the full plan click here and for more views and implications of the plan see below articles:

  • Water Ten: Comply Or Else – China’s new Water Ten Plan sets tough action on pollution prevention & control. While this is good for the water sector, less obvious is who or which sectors will be impacted. China Water Risk’s Tan on why China is serious about its fast & furious pollution reforms to propel China to a new norm
  • Groundwater Under Pressure – New official survey says that China’s groundwater quality has yet again deteriorated. Can the ‘Water Ten Plan’ turn this around? Who will be affected? Find out what’s at stake & why the next 5 years are crucial
  • Can The Water Ten Protect Water Sources? – Some 40% of urban residents drink bottled water. This could change with the Water Ten Plan which aims to eventually deliver safe drinking water from the tap. Are the water source protection targets tough enough or will the bottle water market proliferate? CWR’s Liu & McGregor expand
  • Water In Coal: Still Murky – Multiple policies were issued recently over the proper management of coal mine water, in particular mine water reuse to alleviate groundwater woes. But the road ahead is still murky. China Water Risk’s Thieriot walks us through inconsistencies in data & targets