A nationwide information management system for water resources will be set up within the next three years to improve the country's monitoring abilities of its fast-growing water consumption and deteriorating water quality, officials said.
The system, with a total investment of 1.8 billion yuan ($285.5 million), will establish 14,000 water monitoring sites throughout the country to collect local information on water consumption and water quality, according to a statement released at a two-day national working conference of water resources in Beijing that ended on Tuesday.
The move is seen as a major effort by the central authorities after the country pledged to launch a stricter water resources management system earlier this year to tackle problems including water scarcity, frequent floods and droughts, soil erosion and pollution.
"Water shortages and pollution are now quite severe in China because of a rising population, advanced urbanization and global climate change," Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei told the conference.
There have been an increasing number of environmental accidents after chemical plants were built alongside rivers in recent years, especially along the banks of the Yangtze, China's longest waterway.
In 2011, a total of 542 environmental accidents were handled nationwide, of which nearly 60 percent were triggered by traffic accidents and mishaps in the process of production, statistics from the Ministry of Environmental Protection showed.
Water analysts blamed that lack of sufficient monitoring ability on water quality, hindering the country's ability to to mitigate damage triggered by chemical spills.
"Under the system, water quality situations covering the country's major water supplies, including key rivers, lakes and reservoirs, will be monitored in a timely way," Chen said.
He was confident that the country's monitoring of water resources will greatly improve after the system gets under way.
Qian Zhengying from the Chinese Academy of Engineering Sciences, who was a former minister of water resources, urged government authorities to intensify their supervision to control the total quantity of pollutants discharged into rivers to ensure the supply of safe water.
"At present, some local governments and enterprises put too much emphasis on economic development, leading to worsening water pollution. It is the greatest threat to the country's water resources management," she said.
By 2030, more than 95 percent of key rivers and reservoirs with specific usage functions — such as providing drinking water and water for agriculture and industry — will be expected to be up to standard on quality, a sharp increase from 46 percent in 2011, according to the ministry.
Also, China plans to contain total water consumption to less than 700 billion cubic meters a year by 2030.
At present, the country, with a population of 1.3 billion, consumes more than 600 billion cubic meters of water a year, or about three-quarters of its exploitable water resources.
The average amount of water resources available per capita in China is only 2,100 cubic meters, or about 28 percent of the world's average, the ministry's figures showed.
About two-thirds of Chinese cities suffer from water shortages, while nearly 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water.