China Earmarks Billions for New Water Protection Projects

By Michael Standaert

Aug. 11 — China will allocate 430 billion yuan ($64.8 billion) through 2020 for 4,800 projects to improve and protect drinking water, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said Aug. 8.

The ministry said 13 billion yuan ($1.95 billion) has been allocated so far this year as part of the spending program, mainly to protect urban drinking water resources and deal with brackish water problems in the Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei regions and several critical river basins.

The ministry released few details on how the balance of the money—which is being allocated under the 13th Five Year Plan, which runs through 2020—will be spent. But projects will be managed through a central database that can show which ones have been added, are active, completed or have been canceled, it said.

This will allow the ministry to track if funds are being properly used.

Major Pollution Problems

China has struggled with water resource protection after three decades of rapid development and last year the country announced a water pollution action plan.

About 14 percent of the water in China's seven main river basins is not potable or usable for agriculture or industry, according to government statistics. And about 58 percent of the water in 26 major lakes and reservoirs, and 40 percent of underground water, is considered too polluted to drink.

The country also faces severe water shortages in its northern half and overabundance and flooding in the southern half.

‘Sponge Cities.'

China has implemented a “sponge city” pilot program in 16 cities to collect rainwater to be treated and reused. But the program has had issues, as 10 of the cities experienced severe flooding, some of it attributed to efforts to capture the excess water, state-run media outlets reported this month.

China also has struggled to get water-related public-private partnership (PPP) projects off the ground. In late June, the National Audit Office said $2.6 billion in water pollution related funding doled out to local governments in 2015 was wasted or improperly used.

On Aug. 3, the office also announced in a quarterly report that a number of the country's wastewater treatment facilities were releasing untreated wastewater, that certain construction projects were not protecting their sites, leading to local water pollution problems, and that further mismanagement of water treatment funding had been found.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

For More Information

The Ministry of Environmental Protection statement on water project management and funding is available, in Chinese, at .

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