China’s Water Management Strategy

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-05-28 18:33
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Water is the source of life, the foundation of ecosystems, and an essential factor in the productive activities of human beings. Identifying water conservation as a priority effort for the development of an ecological civilization, the report to the 18th National Congress of the CPC put forward clear requirements with regard to the management of water resources. These include making efforts to better protect water sources, controlling overall water consumption, and pushing forward water recycling so as to promote resource conservation; taking integrated steps to control soil erosion, accelerating the construction of water projects, and enhancing our capacity to combat floods, drought and waterlogging in urban and rural areas, so as to increase the protection of ecosystems and the environment; and improving the strictest possible system for managing water resources, deepening the reform of prices, taxes, and fees for resource products, and moving faster to lay down the institutional foundations of an ecological civilization.

I. We will make new progress in accelerating the scientific development of water conservation

The Three Gorges Dam at dusk. A new round of tests to raise the water level in the Three Gorges Reservoir to its maximum capacity of 175 meters began on September 10, 2012. / Xinhua (Photo by Wang Jiaman)

China is a vast country whose various regions display differing natural conditions for economic and social development. There are huge differences in the water issues that confront the country’s northern and southern areas, eastern, central, and western areas, as well as urban and rural areas. In recent years, we have proposed new concepts of sustainability in water resource management after giving due consideration to different conditions in different areas. At the same time, we have persisted in developing water projects for the benefit of the people and placing our focus on resolving water issues of major public concern. These efforts have led to a number of notable successes which have contributed to the vigorous development of China’s water programs.

In order to build on what we have already achieved, we need to gain an accurate understanding of China’s national conditions, its water situation, as well as the developmental characteristics of the country’s water programs at the current stage. In striving to achieve a balance between economic and social development and the conservation of water resources, we need to give due consideration to the role of water as a resource, and to its roles in an environmental and ecological sense, so that we are able to develop, allocate, conserve, protect, and manage water resources in a rational, optimal, comprehensive, effective, and scientific manner. At the same time, a comprehensive approach needs to be taken towards issues such as flooding, water shortages, and poor water quality. Through our efforts, we must move more rapidly to make the shift from flood control to flood management; from supply management to demand management; from emphasizing the development and utilization of water resources to placing equal emphasis on development and protection; and from limited management in water ecologies to the all-out development of a culture for the protection of water ecologies. Also, we must deepen, broaden, and heighten our efforts to promote new progress in the development of water projects for the benefit of the public. Through the above efforts, we will develop a uniquely Chinese approach to the modernization of water conservation, which will help us to lay down solid foundations for economic development, allow the public to benefit more from water conservation programs, and ensure that we leave behind an even more beautiful landscape for our future generations. 

II. We will strive to achieve new success in the development of water projects for public benefit

Water conservation has a bearing on the immediate interests of the public. China’s continued social and economic development and the increasing standards of living in both urban and rural areas have brought about new and higher demands for water conservation programs. Safeguarding and improving the well-being of the people is both the reason why we engage in water programs and the goal that we aspire to through these efforts. Therefore, it is essential that we bear in mind the constantly growing public demand for higher standards of living as we strive to further our water programs. On this basis, we need to prioritize the construction of water infrastructure that benefits people directly, regard the satisfaction of the general public as the highest criterion for the evaluation of our efforts, and strive to provide equal access to the basic services under water conservation programs. Our focus must be a new approach to the development of water projects whose goal is to ensure, serve, and improve the well-being of the people.

We must speed up efforts to reinforce priority small-scale reservoirs, efforts to regulate priority small and medium-sized rivers, and efforts to develop non-structural programs for the control and prevention of flash floods at the county level. Moreover, we must strive to bring more small and medium-sized rivers and tributaries of large rivers under control, initiate flash flood appraisals, and launch rectification efforts in priority flood ditches, so as to remove potential flood hazards that could result in the loss of life and property. We will accelerate the construction of safe drinking water projects in rural areas in an effort to fully resolve the issue of safe drinking water for the rural population. At the same time, we will actively develop centralized water supply projects so as to bring tap water to more rural areas and realize unified water supply both in urban and rural areas. We will work to develop and regulate hydropower resources in rural areas. This will involve accelerating efforts to electrify counties under the program to develop hydropower in the new socialist countryside, working faster to replace fuel combustion with small-scale hydropower, and upgrading the efficiency and capacity of hydropower plants throughout the countryside. At the same time, great importance needs to be attached to the relocation of local residents due to water projects. During the formulation and implementation of plans and schemes for the relocation and resettlement of local residents, we need to place more emphasis on improving the living conditions of those who are relocated, and on increasing their productivity, enhancing their skills, and providing them with a stronger social safety net, so as to ensure that they are able to move willingly, settle down, and become wealthier. In flood detention areas, we will establish sounder management systems, strengthen safety measures, and make improvements to compensation policy in an active effort to provide better working and living conditions for local residents. 

III. We will make new advances in the establishment of water projects as a foundation for development

China has already succeeded in making a historic transformation from a major agricultural country to a major industrial one. However, some issues arising from industrialization and urbanization, such as the concentration of the population, the enlargement of cities, the clustering of industry, and changes to life styles, have exerted unprecedented pressure on water supply, flood control and drainage, and on resources and the environment. At the same time, the spread of information technology and the rapid pace of agricultural modernization have presented the development of water conservation with both valuable opportunities and serious challenges. Water resources are of fundamental importance in China’s efforts to bring industrialization, urbanization, agricultural modernization, and the spread of IT in step with one another. For this reason, we face an urgent and burdensome task in developing water projects to underpin this development.

We need to make constant improvements to the present range of modern water conservation projects. To do so, we need to proceed with efforts to regulate large rivers and lakes, emphasize the construction of a number of flood-control complexes, and develop a fully functional framework for flood prevention, drainage, and disaster mitigation which comprises of a wide range of structural and non-structural measures. By doing so, we will be able to set up an effective safety barrier for the prevention of floods in rural and urban areas. We will make greater efforts to construct projects for the allocation of water resources, such as key water projects in rural and urban areas, trans-basin and trans-regional water diversion projects, and projects for connecting rivers and lakes and different water systems, that link the Yangtze River, Huai River, Yellow River, and Hai River via three north-south routes and allow for water to be diverted between northern and southern regions, between eastern and western regions, and between different parts of the country as required. We must also speed up our efforts to develop an easily regulated network of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs characterized by a rational layout, favorable ecological conditions, sound diversion and drainage capacity, smooth and unhindered circulation, storage and discharge functionality, the ability to adjust water supply during flood and dry seasons, and the capacity for various water sources to supplement one another. This network will help us to better regulate water resources and ensure water supply. We will upgrade the water industry through the application of IT in all aspects of water conservation, such as planning, surveying, design, construction, management, forecasting, and monitoring, so as to drive forward the modernization of water conservation. We will also make great efforts to develop irrigation and water projects for arable land. As a part of these efforts, we will speed up the expansion of supporting projects in large and medium-sized irrigation areas, the upgrading of large and medium-sized irrigation and drainage pump stations, and the implementation of China’s plan to increase grain production capacity by another 50 million tons. At the same time, we will strengthen the development of small and micro-sized water conservation facilities in key counties, launch a campaign to save water and increase grain output in northeast China, and promote the development of high-efficiency, water-saving irrigation in northwest and northern China, with the focus being the establishment of a number of demonstration areas for large-scale, high-efficiency, water-saving irrigation. We will continue to raise our overall agricultural production capacity and our capacity for the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters in agriculture, and raise the efficiency and effectiveness of water use. 

IV. We will make new progress in implementing the strictest possible water management system

Since water is the most important controlling factor in the ecological environment, fostering a culture for the protection of water ecosystems constitutes a major aspect of our efforts to develop an ecological civilization, as well as a basic guarantee for the success of these efforts. For a long time, China’s social and economic development has come at a too great cost to its water resources and water environments. This has given rise to serious problems in certain places, such as water pollution, the deterioration of water quality, the drying up of rivers and lakes, earth subsidence, sea water intrusion, soil erosion, and ecosystem degradation. All of these problems present serious challenges to our sustainable development. To resolve the issues that we currently face with regard to resources and the environment, increase our capacity for sustainable development, and succeed in building a beautiful China, we must speed up the development of a culture for the protection of water ecosystems.

We need to start with the implementation of the strictest possible system for the management of water resources. Three “red lines” urgently need to be established for control over the development and usage of water resources, control over the efficiency of water usage, and for limiting the drainage of pollutants into water function zones. This must be complemented by a sound accountability and assessment system for water management, so as to reverse the trend of deteriorating water environments at the source. We will strictly control the total amount of water usage by implementing various management measures, such as the evaluation of water resources, supervision of water intake permission, and the paid usage of water resources, and by formulating allocation and control schemes for water in major rivers and basins, so as to maintain ecological flows in rivers and rational water levels in lakes, reservoirs, and underground. This will ensure that the basic demand for water in ecosystems can be met. We will place an emphasis on raising the efficiency of water usage. To do this, we will strictly manage water quotas and implement plans for the use of water, establish mandatory standards for water conservation, and monitor the use of water in key sectors, so as to promote the development of a water-saving society. We will strictly determine capacities for the drainage of pollutants into rivers and lakes, observe the division of function areas in all major rivers and lakes, establish a range of measures for the assessment of water quality in water function areas, and carry out dynamic monitoring of the total amount of pollutants that are drained into rivers and lakes.

By adopting a comprehensive range of measures such as diversion and drainage, pollutant interception and control, river and lake dredging, and ecological control, we will step up the protection of key ecological areas and water sources, and promote ecological recovery in ecologically vulnerable rivers, lakes, and areas. This will allow us to gradually achieve a sound state of development in which water demand is fixed according to water supply, actions are taken in line with local conditions, and development can take place without causing damage to water resources. We will step up water and soil conservation. To achieve this, we will make greater efforts to prevent and control soil erosion in key areas, accelerate the rectification of hillside farmland, and improve ecological conditions in minor river basins for the effective conservation of water and soil resources. We will launch a campaign to establish leading cities in the protection of water ecosystems, and engage in active efforts to rectify and dredge rivers, lakes, and pools in rural areas. These efforts are essential if we are to leave behind a beautiful homeland for our future generations, one with green mountains, clean waters, open rivers, and spectacular lakes lined with trees and flowers. 

V. We will make breakthroughs in the development of systems and mechanisms for the scientific management of water resources

With the gradual expansion of the overall functions and scope of water conservation, the range of parties whose interests are affected by water programs is set to become increasingly diverse. Under such circumstances, the rational development of water conservation has become a much more widespread and challenging task. In addition to focusing on large-scale water projects, we must be more determined to set up dynamic, efficient, and more open systems and mechanisms for the rational development of water conservation, and establish a sound mode for the development of water conservation that is suited to China’s national conditions and water situation. Through these efforts, we will inject vitality and vigor into our water conservation programs. 

We will further deepen the reform of investment and financing systems for water conservation programs and make breakthroughs in the establishment of a sound mechanism for promoting the stable increase of investment in water conservation. This will be a government-led mechanism in which financial institutions play a supporting role and the widespread participation of all social sectors is encouraged. We will continue with the reform of the management system for water resources by establishing well-coordinated management mechanisms with clearly defined duties, responsibilities, and tasks. We will deepen our efforts to revamp the system for the construction and management of water projects, which will be done by establishing a sound market credit system, a quality supervision system, and a system to ensure the safe operation of projects. We will continue to improve water conservation in localities by establishing a rationally laid-out framework of local water services under which highly-trained personnel provide satisfactory services in line with the predetermined functions. We will continue to make changes to the way that water is priced and improve the water rights system. In this effort, we will seek to make new progress in developing a system for the paid use of water resources and a system of ecological compensation which can reflect resource scarcity and the supply and demand conditions in the market, balance efficiency and equity, and embody the value of ecological environments and compensation for later generations. In addition, more must be done to conduct water conservation on a legal basis. For this purpose, we will speed up the improvement of laws and regulations on water resources management, the management of rivers and lakes, water conservation, flood and drought prevention, farmland irrigation, and hydropower in rural areas. Through these efforts, we will establish a complete, rationally structured, and interlinking framework of water laws and regulations that accords to China’s national conditions and water situation. At the same time, we will establish a system for administrative law enforcement whereby enforcers have clearly defined powers and responsibilities, conduct their duties in line with prescribed norms, and are subject to effective supervision. Moreover, we will establish a sound mechanism to prevent, mediate, and resolve disputes concerning water resources, with the focus being placed on prevention. We will improve the planning of water projects on a nationwide basis, in drainage basins, and in local regions, so as to better exert the role of planning in the management, guidance, and control of activities related to water resources. We will improve the system for technological innovation with regard to water, step up basic research and R&D with regard to water conservation, and strive to make breakthroughs in the key fields, crucial aspects, and core technologies of water conservation. These efforts will help to drive forward the development of water conservation through technological innovation.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.2, 2013)

Author: Minister of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China

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