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Water Pollution Control Still Far from Satisfactory

Water pollution control goals of the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001 - 2005) in major river regions are far from being reached, warned Xie Zhenhua, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), at a national conference on water pollution control in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Xie called on all regions across the country to learn from the successful efforts in the areas around Taihu Lake.


Of the 2,418 water pollution control projects designed for the nation’s major river regions, only 777 have been completed and 673 are under way. The remainder, some 40 percent, have not been launched at all.


To date, about 64.5 billion yuan (US$7.8 billion) has been invested in the projects, while the total planned investment stands at 192.6 billion yuan (US$23.0 billion), Xie said at the conference on Sunday.


Expenditures so far include 14.7 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) from the central government and 49.8 billion yuan (US$6.0 billion) from local governments.


The subject regions include those along and around the Huaihe, Haihe and Liaohe rivers and Taihu, Chaohu and Dianchi lakes, known as the Three Rivers and Three Lakes Region. Those regions come under the auspices of 11 provinces as well as the Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai municipalities.


The regions also include the eastern line of the South-to-North Water Project--the country’s largest water diversion project--the area around the Three Gorges Project and the Bohai Sea coast.


Although there has been some progress, water quality at half the monitoring points in the Three Rivers and Three Lakes Region does not meet the requirements of the 10th Five-Year Plan, Xie said.


The ecological balance in the Haihe and Liaohe rivers is seriously disturbed, and the West Liaohe River in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has been dry for five consecutive years.


Some river branches in the region of the Three Gorges Project have even seen worsening water quality.


Xie attributed the current situation to some local governments’ blind pursuit of economic growth, insufficient investment and failure to phase out obsolete techniques and polluting companies.


He said sewage and waste generated by daily life and agricultural production also contribute to the problem. Urban discharge of sewage has been increasing rapidly, but the construction of treatment plants lags far behind.


Xie urged local governments to launch the planned projects by 2005 and to seek funds for the projects. Local fees for sewage treatment should be raised so that the cost of building and operating treatment plants can be covered. Xie pointed to Taihu Lake as a success story.


Taihu Lake is the third largest freshwater lake in China, with an area of about 2,340 square kilometers. It is a major source of drinking water for people in Shanghai and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, all booming areas in east China.


However, by 2001 water in the lake had been seriously polluted by discharge from local industries and people living in the area. That year, a pollution control plan was developed for the region.


Since then, more than 100 printing, dyeing and chemical plants in Jiangsu have been shut down, said Xie. Authorities have also shut down or suspended the pulp production lines of 14 paper mills and helped another five large mills develop more environmentally friendly systems.


The paper output in the province has grown by a factor of 10, while the discharge of pollutants has dropped by 50 percent.


According to Shi Zhenhua, head of the Jiangsu Province Environmental Protection Bureau, 92 percent of the Taihu Lake pollution control projects in have been started and the rest will be launched within the first half of the year.


Nearly 60 percent of the projects have been completed and put into use, he said, and the goals set for pollution control in the lake have basically been reached.


Xie said that by 2005, sewage treatment plants in the Taihu Lake region will have a capacity of 2.2 million tons per day, nearly 30 percent more than the 1.7 million tons required by the 10th Five-Year Plan.


Both government officials and independent experts believe the success at Taihu Lake is a direct result of market reform. Shi said that in 2000, construction of the province’s sewage treatment plants around the lake were almost stopped because of low charges for sewage treatment.


(China Daily May 10, 2004)


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