China: Water Pollution Control Law

Management and monitoring of wastewater in China is governed by the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law of 2017, as well as goals set out in the Five-Year Plans of the Communist Party. Until recently, wastewater management has been low on the priority list for the Chinese government, and has always taken a back seat to economic advancement and the more recent focus on reduction in air pollution. For example, to meet economic output goals set forth by the communist government in their Five-Year Plans, wastewater treatment plants of entire cities would be shut down for long periods of time to reduce cost. In addition, not until the most recent Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law in 2017, was monitoring and setting standards for water quality in rivers a part of the national policy. The 13th Five-Year Plan of the Chinese Communist party now includes increased funding for, and focus on, availability of traditional wastewater collection and treatment facilities for villages and cities. Much of this funding will focus on installing wastewater piping and treatment plans in areas where it was not before. As of 2019, only 11 percent of Chinese villages have access to wastewater treatment facilities. Until very recently, China’s municipal wastewater treatment plants were decentralized and under the jurisdiction of local governments. The Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law of 2017, however, initiates a more country-wide policy on wastewater management. There are 4 key elements in the law: 1) pollution-reduction targets for rivers are not set at the national level; while local and regional officials are responsible for meeting them, 2) agricultural pollution and fertilizer use standards were improved, and a more national system of monitoring and accountability was enacted, 3) drinking water standards were improved, and local officials now must report standards to the public, and 4) fines will be used to enforce these rules.