Historically, China’s water policy has focused on flood control and as a result the country has an extensive system of river dikes and reservoirs that extend over 270,000 km and 85,000 km respectively. China’s broader mandate to protect the environment only entered the country’s constitution in the early seventies1 and water conservation only appeared on the policy agenda relatively recently, with specific water resource legislation making it to the statute books in the early eighties. Since then, and as China’s water crisis deepens, water management, including water conservation, has received increasing attention in PRC government policy.

With the introduction of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution in 1984 and the Water Law in 2002, China established regulatory control for the prevention and control of fresh water pollution and use of its water resources. In particular, 2008 was a landmark year for China’s water management with significant revision of the Law on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution and introduction of the Measures for Opening the Environmental Information (Trial). The Water Law strengthens the existing Law and amongst other measures provide for: tougher penalties for polluters; a discharge permitting system; citizens to bring class action suits against polluters; improved standards; increased transparency; and penalties for inadequate government enforcement. The new Measures on Environmental Information are also an important move toward improving transparency through mandating the disclosure of environmental information and providing for public participation. This is an area of which Pan Yue (MEP’s Vice Minister) has been an ardent supporter. Also in 2008, the government’s institutional restructuring saw the establishment of five ‘super ministries’ to reduce overlapping responsibilities among existing government agencies. This included the elevation of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) to ministerial status – the Ministry of Environmental Protection – demonstrating, as noted by China scholars,2 both strong political will and greater commitment of China’s central government to environmental protection.

This section provides a summary of the key legislative and regulatory developments that impact water-related issues in China, as well as those that are of relevance to the business and investor communities. China and legal scholars2 have as a matter of course provided much commentary and analysis on the issues highlighted in the following pages and reference has been made to these throughout the text for further reading.


1 Xin Qiu and Honglin Li, “China’s Environmental Super Ministry Reform: Background, Challenges, and the Future, “Environmental Law Institute, Washington, 2009
2 Ibid.