The Hunan government will spend 17.4 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) over the next three years to clean the Xiangjiang River, one of the country's most polluted, Governor Zhou Qiang said on Monday.
The project is designed to bring the quality of water in the river in line with national standards and will be achieved by enforcing tougher controls on polluting companies and by building more sewage treatment facilities, he said.
Under the plan, 851 firms will be ordered to update their effluent treatment systems, or face closure, and 123 sewage treatment and garbage disposal plants will be built in the river valley, he said.
Most of the heavy polluting firms are involved in livestock and poultry breeding, papermaking, metallurgy and chemicals, he said.
The cleanup will be focused on the key industrial centers of Chenzhou, Zhuzhou, Hengyang and Xiangtan.
Over time, we aim to transform the Xiangjiang into "the Rhine of China", Zhou said.
Jiang Yimin, director of the provincial environmental protection bureau, said the government is "determined" to achieve its goal.
"Both the government and industry have a role to play in improving the environment, and the authorities will make sure firms play their part," he said.
Last year, the central government established an experimental zone for energy-saving and environmentally friendly programs centered around the Hunan cities of Changsha, Zhuzhou and Xiangtan, all of which lie along the Xiangjiang River.
Liu Siwei, a professor at the Hunan University of Commerce, said: "If we want these experimental zones to succeed we must get rid of the pollution in the Xiangjiang River, which is one of the worst in China."
For decades, the river valley has been an industrial base and the local water quality has suffered as a result, he said.
For two months of 2005, the river ranked as the most polluted in China, a report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.
Last year, the water quality at 20 of 40 monitoring points along the river failed to meet national safety standards, Jiang said.
Every year, 1.85 tons of mercury and 125 tons of lead are discharged into the river. Last year, local firms pumped more than 50,000 tons of pollutants into the river near Zhuzhou, more than three times the national standard, Jiang said.
(China Daily July 30, 2008)