No new industrial projects will be approved in several cities and industrial parks along four major river systems to prevent them from being further contaminated.
Six cities, two counties and five industrial zones were indicted by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) for their role in polluting the Yangtze, Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe rivers.
SEPA will not approve any projects for three months apart from treatment plants and recycling facilities; and the ban will not be lifted until the sources of untreated wastewater are shut down and treatment facilities installed.
Pan Yue, vice-minister of SEPA, told China Daily that the environmental authorities had zeroed in on the areas following a thorough investigation.
The cities are Chaohu and Bengbu in Anhui, Baiyin in Ningxia, Bayannur in Inner Mongolia, Weinan in Shaanxi, Zhoukou in Henan; and the two counties are Hejin and Xiangfen in Shanxi.
The industrial parks are in Wuhu in Anhui, Lanzhou in Gansu, Handan in Hebei, Puyang in Henan and Shenxian County in Shandong.
Surveillance by the environmental watchdog from January to April showed that water quality in these places was extremely poor, said Pan.
In Chaohu, for example, 18 of the 23 industrial plants checked were found releasing pollutants illegally into Chaohu Lake.
The lake was also hit by outbreaks of blue and green algae last month, caused by lakeside factories pumping untreated wastewater into it.
Altogether, 32 heavily polluting factories and six wastewater treatment plants were blacklisted by SEPA and ordered to fix their "environmental problems" in three months.
"Suspending approval of new industrial projects is the toughest measure that SEPA can take, given its (limited) authority," Pan said.
But he is worried about vested local interests.
"Pursuit of short-term goals is leading to ever increasing pollution despite various measures," Pan said.
"Traditional ways of development have caused the near breakdown of China's resources and environment; and people's lives are in great danger."
Despite the challenges, the green campaign will be extended to Pearl and Liaohe rivers, the entire Yangtze River basin and some key sea coast areas, Pan said. He also called for a joint effort by the ministries of environment, water affairs, urban construction, forest and agriculture to tackle the problem.
Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University, said: "The fact that SEPA has to repeatedly rely on these drastic but sometimes controversial measures to enforce some of the very basic environmental requirements reminds us that there is still a long way to go to have an environmental management system of full effectiveness and integrity."
Last year, polluted or seriously polluted water in the country's seven major river systems accounted for 26 percent of the total.
And water quality in seven out of the nine lakes under surveillance was so bad that it posed danger to human skin on contact.
(China Daily July 4, 2007)