REGULATIONS > Water Regulation

The NPC has to date enacted several laws for environmental protection, including a number directly relevant to water resource management. In addition, it has enacted laws for the management of natural resources and introduced over 30 regulations on environmental protection. The ministries and environmental protection authorities also have issued various supervisions, regulations and administrative decrees to effect the implementation of these State laws.


Information is compiled from the UN/IUCN database ECOLEX ( where indicated, and is intended to provide guidance only as to the key water laws in China. In addition to the laws and measures highlighted below, the PRC government has issued numerous administrative decrees relative to water resource management. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Water Resources list water and environmental laws, regulations and measures on their respective websites.

Title Entry into force
Circular Economy Promotion Law 

January 2009
Law of the People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution 

June 2008 

This Law was previouslyadopted in 1984 and revised in 1996 and most recently in 2008.
Decree No 35 of the State Environmental Protection Administration of the People’s Republic of China, on Promulgating the Measures for Opening the Environmental Information (Trial) 

May 2008
Interim Measures of Public Participation in EIA 

February 2006
Law of the People’s Republic of China on Environmental Impact Assessments 

September 2003
Water Law of the Peoples Republic of China
The Annex to the Water Law reports the editing and additional text of the Water Law of 2002 

August 2002 

This Law was originally introduced in 1988.
Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Promotion of Clean Production 

January 2003
Soil and Water Conservation Law 

June 1991
Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China 

December 1989

Another important element of China’s water regulatory framework is its environmental and water quality standards, which have been largely formulated to implement environmental protection and water resource laws. These include both water quality anddischarge and emissions standards:

Water Quality Standards

Environmental quality standard for surface water

Quality standard for ground water

Standards for irrigation water quality

Water quality standard for fisheries

Discharge and Emission Standards

The Integrated Wastewater Discharge Standard establishes the upper limit for 69 pollutant concentrations and the allowed water discharges for some industries. This applies to existing water treatment facilities and covers discharge management, environmental impact assessment, design and operational monitoring post construction.

A range of discharge and emission standards target specific industries including (but not limited to the following)

  • Chemicals
  • Coal
  • Electroplating
  • Iron and steel
  • Meat packing
  • Municipal wastewater treatment
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Pesticides
  • Pulp and paper
  • Sapogenin
  • Sugar
  • Textiles

Circular Economy Promotion Law

For full text click here

Entry into Force: 

January 2009

According to Xinhua, the aim of the law is to boost sustainable development through energy saving and reduction of pollutant discharges. Water conservation features throughout the law, examples of which are provided below. 

The term “circular economy” is a generic term for the reducing, reusing and recycling activities conducted in the process of production, circulation and consumption.

The law is divided into seven chapters:

  1. General Principles
  2. Basic Management Rules
  3. Reduction
  4. Reusing and Recycling
  5. Incentive Measures
  6. Legal Liabilities
  7. Supplementary Provisions

Source : ECOLEX

Under the law, the government will conduct stringent monitoring of high water consumption and high-emission industries, including steel and non-ferrous metal production, power generation, oil refining, construction and printing industries.

Industrial enterprises are required to use advanced or applicable water-saving technologies, techniques and equipment, develop and implement water-saving plans, strengthen water-saving management and exercise control over the use of water in the whole production process. They shall also strengthen quantitative management of water use, be equipped with and use acceptable water measurement instruments, and set up a water consumption statistics system and a water use status analysis system. Any newly built, rebuilt or enlarged construction project shall have water-saving facilities, which shall be planned, built and put into use simultaneously with the main body of the project.

Regarding agriculture, areas short of water shall adjust the planting structure, give priority to the development of water-saving agriculture, make more efforts in storing and using rainwater and build and maintain water saving irrigation facilities so as to improve water use efficiency and reduce the evaporation and loss of water.

The state shall offer tax preferences to industrial activities promoting the development of the circular economy, and use tax measures to encourage the import of water-saving technologies. The specific measures shall be formulated by the public finance department and the tax department under the State Council.


Law of the People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution

For full text click here

Entry into Force: 

June 2008

This Law was previously adopted in 1984, and revised in 1996 and 2008

This law aims at the prevention and control of pollution of rivers, lakes, canals, irrigation channels, reservoirs and other surface water bodies and groundwater. State quality standards for the aquatic environment and for the discharge of water pollutants shall be established at the central and local level by the competent authorities. 

According to the provisions of this Law, the authorities shall, in the process of developing, utilising, regulating and allocating water resources, make integrated and rational plans for the purpose of:

  1. maintaining proper river flows, proper water levels of lakes and reservoirs and proper groundwater tables;
  2. protecting urban water sources, preventing and controlling urban water pollution;
  3. controlling the placement of industry;
  4. designating protected zones; and
  5. controlling the direct or indirect discharge of pollutants into water bodies.

Similar provisions are made with respect to the prevention of surface water and groundwater pollution. Final provisions establish the penalties to be applied in case of contravention.

The Law is divided into eight Chapters:

  1. General provisions
  2. Standards and planning for the prevention and control of water pollution
  3. Supervision and administration of the prevention and control of water pollution
  4. Measures for the prevention and control of water pollution
  5. Protection of drinkable water sources and other special waters
  6. Management of water pollution accidents
  7. Legal liability
  8. Supplementary provisions

Source : ECOLEX

Highlights of the 2008 Amendments:

  1. Performance of local officials to be evaluated, at least in part, on meeting water and environmental protection targets (“Target responsibility system”).
  2. Monetary sanctions revised significantly with no maximum limits for specified incidents as follows:
  3. RMB 500 (for individual infractions) to RMB 1 million, or about US$150,000, for enterprises operating illegally. The latter maximum penalty is applicable when an enterprise fails to comply with a government order to relocate a discharge outlet away from a drinking water source protection zone in violation of the law.
  4. For serious and extraordinarily serious pollution incidents, penalties of up to 50% of the income obtained from the enterprise or public institution in the previous year shall be imposed upon each of the directly liable persons. Previously, the fine was 30% of the direct damages, up to a maximum of RMB 1,000,000 and the responsible officers only faced administrative penalties.
  5. For serious pollution incidents, the enterprise will be fined 30% of the direct damages caused by the pollution with no maximum limit. Previously the fine was 20% of the direct damages, up to a maximum of RMB200,000 and the responsible officers only faced administrative penalties.
  6. For ordinary or relatively serious pollution incidents, the enterprise will be fined 20% of the direct damages caused by the pollution with no maximum limit.
  7. Inclusion of total control targets. However, only one “total quantity control limit” has been imposed on a country-wide basis: a mass loading limit on COD (in some specific watersheds additional “total quantity control limits” have been imposed, i.e., for Ammonia (NH3-N) in the Huai River basin).
  8. Industry-specific discharge standards will normally apply, instead of the general set of water pollutant discharge standards in the Integrated Wastewater Discharge Standard (GB8978-1996). Some sub-national governments, such as Shanghai, have developed location-specific standards.
  9. For the first time in China’s legislative history, the provision for class action suits against polluters has been added to legislation in Article 88, which states that “[i]f the number of parties whose legitimate rights and interests have been damaged in a water pollution accident is relatively huge, these parties may select a representative to file a joint action.”
  10. Provisions for a permitting system applicable to industry introduced.

The recent revision and new provisions have been highlighted and discussed in academic journals and blogs – see ‘related reading below’:


Notice of the Ministry of Environmental Protection on the relevant issues concerning the implementation of the provisions on “the amount of pollutant discharge fee payable” in Article 73 and Article 74 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution.

For full text click here

Entry into force:

June 2008

This Notice implements articles 73 and 74 of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution. It prescribes fines to be paid by entities which use water pollutant treatment facilities abnormally or discharge water pollutants beyond the state or local standards or exceed the total allowed discharge volume of major water pollutants. Fines shall be calculated based on the amount of pollutant discharge fees. 

Source : ECOLEX

Related reading: 

Cleaner Water in China? The Implications of the Amendments to China’s Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollutionby Dawn Winalski J.D., University of Oregon School of Law, 2009.

Quest for Clean Water: China’s Newly Amended Water Pollution Control Law byJingyun Li and Jingjing Liu, Jiangxi Normal University Law School and Vermont Law School’s China Environmental Law Program, provides an in depth analysis of the 2008 WPPCL.

China’s Pollution Discharge System Evolves Behind its Economic Expansion by Wang Mingyuan, Villanova Environmental Law Journal Vol XIX, 2008.


China Environmental Law reviews the 2008 amendments:


Measures for Opening the Environmental Information (Trial)

For full text click here

Entry into Force : 

May 2008

These regulations have been formulated to: 

  • mandate the disclosure of environmental information by both governmental administrative departments (environmental protection departments) and enterprises;
  • maintain the rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organisations to obtain environmental information; and
  • promote the public’s involvement in environmental protection.

The Law is divided into five chapters:

  1. General Principles
  2. Open Government Environmental Information
    1. Section 1 The Scope of Disclosure
    2. Section 2 Methods of and Procedures for Disclosure
  3. Open Enterprise Environmental Information
  4. Supervision and Responsibilities
  5. Supplementary Regulation


Information disclosure and public participation have in many countries provided a basis for the enforcement of environmental laws. In China, such mechanisms are in the relatively early stages. The Environmental Information Measures and the 2006 Interim Measure on EIA are therefore a significant step in furthering disclosure and public participation in environmental protection.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs Water Pollution Map and its database of polluting companies is a direct outgrowth of the use of publicly disclosed environmental information. Article 11 (Item 13) of the regulations, for example, calls for Environmental Protection Departments to engage in the public listing of “enterprises with severe pollution and whose emission of pollutants is greater than the national or local emission standard or whose total emission of pollutants is greater than the quota of total controlled emissions determined by the local people’s government.”

In April 2009, one year since the Measures came into force, China Dialogue reported on a round table meeting of China’s leading water and legal experts to discuss the successes and failures of the regulations. The discussion highlighted the continuing problem of enforcement, effectively weakening the Measures’ impact.

Related reading: 

Unmasking Chinese business enterprises: using information disclosure laws to enhance public participation in corporate environmental decision making by Timothy Riley, Cai Huiyan, Harvard Environmental Law Review Volume 33, pp177-224.

China Dialogue:

Ma Jun: Your right to know a historic moment

One year of open information


China Environmental Law reviews the measures:- Public Disclosure of Environmental Information


Interim Measures of public participation in EIA

Entry into Force: 

February 2006

Provides mechanisms for the public participation component of the 2003 EIA Law and describes the process including rights and obligations of both the public and the project proponents.
Related Reading: 

Promoting and Strengthening Public Participation in China’s Environmental Impact Assessment Process: Comparing China’s EIA Law and US NEPA, Jesse L. Moorman and Zhang Ge, J.D. 2006, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, Vermont, United States. 2006 Graduate, Zhongshan University School of Law, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, Vol 8, 2006.


Law of the People’s Republic of China on Environmental Impact Assessments

For full text click here

Entry into Force: 

September 2003

The objectives of this Law are the implementation of sustainable development and the prevention of negative impacts on the environment from planning and building operations in the country, through Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). 

The Law also promotes active participation of the communities in the protection of their living environment, research, education and widespread awareness on environmental issues.

The EIA Law comprises the following Chapters:

  1. General Provisions;
  2. Environmental Impact Assessment on Plans
  3. Environmental Impact Assessment on Construction Projects
  4. Legal Liabilities
  5. Supplementary Provisions

Source : ECOLEX


The EIA system is a critical element of pollution management in China. It requires EIAs for specific projects and development plans that involve the development of industry, agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, energy resources, water conservancy, communications, urban construction, tourism and natural resources. EIA sanctions include a fine of up to RMB 200,000 (about US$ 29,000) if a developer does not complete and file an EIA as well as disciplinary sanctions for authorities not implementing the law appropriately.

Some of the issues that have been cited as barriers to effective implementation of the EIA process are:

  • Sporadic enforcement especially when projects have strong political backing, typically at the local level. However, MEP (formerly SEPA) has recently taken a much tougher stance with respect to EIA enforcement and has released information on projects that are breaking the rules, in accordance with greater transparency;
  • Timing of EIAs often lags behind the feasibility study of construction projects. This has reduced the potential positive impact that the assessment can have as important design and location decisions may already have been taken; and
  • Public participation in the process has been low, reducing the validity and acceptance of the EIA results, even though the current law has provisions to encourage public participation. The Interim Measure on EIA introduced in 2006 is intended to give teeth to the public participation component of the Law.

Environmental NGOs in China are proliferating and a core emphasis is to generate a more robust public dialogue. Water financiers and global manufacturers need to be aware of this trend and take steps to address the public’s concerns.


Water Law of the People’s Republic of China

2002 Water Law For full text click here

Entry into Force : 

1st October 2002

The Annex to the Water Law reports the editing and additional text of the Water Law of 2002:

For full text click here

Full Text : 1988 Water Law

For full text click here

The purpose of this Law is to provide for the development, utilisation and protection of water resources, as well as the prevention and control of water hazards, so as to meet the needs of national economic development and people’s welfare. 

“Water resources” refers to surface water and groundwater, excluding sea water. The State must protect water resources and adopt effective measures for the conservation of vegetation, including tree and grass planting, for the prevention and control of water and soil losses.

Furthermore, overall planning has to be made on the basis of river basins or regions. Plans are either comprehensive or special. Comprehensive plans for basins of major rivers are formulated by the competent water administration department in conjunction with other authorities.

Comprehensive plans for other river basins or regions are formulated at the local level. In developing and utilising water resources, priority shall be given to water uses of urban and rural inhabitants. Unified planning of groundwater drawing must be conducted on the basis of survey and assessment of water resources. For cases of drawing water directly from underground or rivers and lakes, the State shall implement a water drawing permit system.

The Law is divided into seven Chapters dealing with:

  1. general matters;
  2. development and utilisation;
  3. protection of water, water bodies and water projects;
  4. administration of water use;
  5. flood prevention and flood fighting;
  6. legal liabilities; and
  7. supplementary provisions.

Source : ECOLEX


The Water Law provides the clearest mandate to-date to facilitate private sector investment in China’s water sector by moving towards a market-based system. Most significantly, the law establishes a user-pay system whereby “fee[s] shall be charged on the basis of the amount of water used and a progressive higher price shall be charged for the amount that exceeds the quota.” This law superseded China’s first comprehensive Water Law enacted in 1988 and gives increasing priority to improving water efficiency and water management. These issues were previously given scant attention, as water management related principally to designing an infrastructural system that could prevent flood damage and ensure adequate supply for the country’s dominant users, industry and agriculture.

Related reading: 

The Revision of Water Law of PRC. and the Efforts for Remedying the Dry-up Problems of Yellow River, Xiong Siangyang, Department of Policy, Law and Regulations, Ministry of Water Resources of the PRC.


Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Promotion of Clean Production

For full text click here

Entry into Force: 

January 2003

The Law provides for improvements in the utilisation, production, implementation of processes, technologies and equipment to reduce pollution, improve resource utilisation efficiency, limit prevent or avoid pollution and polluting discharges in the course of production. 

This goal shall be achieved with the utilisation of toxin-free, non-hazardous or low-toxin and low-impact raw materials and recycling waste products, wastewater and heat generated from production procedures. Inspection and audits shall be conducted extensively to ensure compliance with these provisions.

The Law is divided as follows:

  1. General Provisions
  2. Realisation of Cleaner Production
  3. Implementation of Cleaner Production
  4. Inducement Measures
  5. Legal Liability
  6. Supplementary Articles

Source : ECOLEX


The Clean Production Law stresses the desire of national government officials to promote a “circular (recycling) economy” and reduce pollution through wide adoption of clean production.

Specifically relevant to water, the law states that:

  • enterprises purveying services, such as restaurants, places of entertainment, hotels, etc., shall employ water conservation and other environmentally-friendly technologies and equipment;
  • to the extent economically and technically feasible, enterprises shall recover and utilise their own wastes or wasted heat generated from the processes of production and/or provision of services or transfer these wastes to other enterprises or persons with the ability to do so;
  • enterprises that exceed the national or local discharge standards or exceed the total volume control targets for pollutants set by the relevant local people’s government shall conduct cleaner production audits; and
  • Any enterprise discharging toxic and hazardous substances shall periodically conduct cleaner production audits, and report the audit results to the relevant administrative departments for environmental protection and the relevant departments for the economy and trade under the local people’s government at or above county level.

In July 2008, the Ministry of Environmental Protection promulgated a circular (Chinese) that strengthens the implementation of clean production audits.
Polluting organisations may also be publically exposed by local governments that may publish a list of the names of heavily-polluting enterprises in local media based on the pollution discharges of enterprises, where the pollutants exceed the standards or regulatory limits. This provides the public with a basis for policing enterprises’ implementation of cleaner production.

Enterprises publically listed as above must periodically publish the status of their discharge of major pollutants and submit to public supervision.

Related reading: 

The Government’s National Development and Reform Commission has developed a specific website Cleaner Production in China to provide information in English on cleaner production, on China’s cleaner production policy and legislation and on existing and planned activities to implement cleaner production in China.


Law of the People’s Republic of China on Water and Soil Conservation

For full text click here

Entry into Force : 

June 1991

“Water and soil conservation” means preventive and rehabilitative measures taken against soil erosion, which is caused by natural factors or human activities. 

The Law is formulated for the purpose of the prevention and control of soil erosion, the protection and rational utilisation of water and soil resources, the mitigation of disasters of flood, drought and sandstorm, the improvement of ecological environment and the development of production.

The Law is divided into seven Chapters:

  1. General Provisions
  2. Prevention
  3. Rehabilitation
  4. Supervision
  5. Legal Responsibility, provisions regarding offences and penalties
  6. Supplementary Provision

Source : ECOLEX


Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China

For full text click here

Entry into Force : 

December 1989

The law was initially adopted in 1979 as the environmental protection law of the People’s Republic of China (for trial implementation).

The objectives of this Law are to protect and improve the environment, to prevent and remedy pollution, to safeguard human health and to promote modern development. 

The Law provides for:

  1. the integration of environmental protection into development planning;
  2. the promotion of environmental education;
  3. the obligation of the individuals and units to protect the environment; and
  4. the responsibilities of Government bodies, at central, provincial, regional and municipal levels, in respect of supervision and administration of environmental protection activities.

For the purposes of supervision and administration, the competent authorities have power to:

  1. formulate standards for environmental quality and the release of pollutants;
  2. establish a system of supervision and monitoring;
  3. evaluate the state of the environment and design environmental protection plans; and
  4. undertake, where necessary, environmental impact assessments and inspect polluting units.

Appropriate measures must be taken by the competent authorities in order to:

  1. safeguard natural ecosystems and habitats, rare and endangered wild animals and plants and important conservation areas; and
  2. prevent soil erosion, land degradation, agricultural pollution and the pollution of fresh and marine waters. Polluting units must likewise adopt effective measures to prevent and control wastes, residues, radioactive materials as well as noise, vibrations and electro-magnetic radiation. New industrial units must use low-waste technologies.

Source : ECOLEX

Some consider that the law’s provisions serve more as guidelines than as legal directives and can (and often are) construed by local and provincial officials to suit their own interests. For example, Article 35 declares: “Any violator of this Law shall, according to the circumstances of the case, be warned or fined by the competent department.” Yet the law does not specify the amount of the fine, if any, or whether a warning or fine is preferred.

The law is instrumental, however, because it demonstrates the Central government’s commitment to environmental protection and when first implemented, it sent a signal to provincial and local officials that environmental protection is part of the national agenda.

Numerous standards have been introduced to assist in enforcing the Environmental Protection Law. These and other water standards can be found at MEP Water Standards.