The Ex­pected Yangtze River Law: Ecol­ogy First

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Mu Qinhe

Flow­ing through 19 prov­inces, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and autonomous re­gions 400 mil­lion peo­ple in­habit, the Yangtze (Changjiang) River has the largest drainage basin in China. The river has al­ways played an im­por­tant role in the coun­try’s eco­log­i­cal and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, in re­cent decades, disor­dered ex­ploita­tion of the river has re­sulted in se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion and eco­log­i­cal dam­age, which has se­ri­ously re­stricted fur­ther so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment along the river.

In early 2016, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping re­marked that restor­ing the Yangtze River’s eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment would be an over­whelm­ing task, and an­nounced that no large-scale de­vel­op­ment would be al­lowed along the river for an ex­tended pe­riod of time. In or­der to bet­ter pro­tect and uti­lize this vi­tal body of wa­ter, thirty deputies pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect the Yangtze River at this year’s an­nual ses­sion of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress in March.

Com­pli­cated Prob­lems

Nour­ish­ing a tremen­dous num­ber of peo­ple and fos­ter­ing in­ten­sive eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, the drainage basin of the Yangtze River also suf­fers se­ri­ous wa­ter prob­lems.

“In re­cent years, the river has be­come more re­sis­tant to dis­as­ters but still the threats of flood and drought loom,” says Lu Zhong­mei, deputy di­rec­tor of Com­mis­sion of So­cial and Leg­isla­tive Af­fairs of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence. “Al­though the over­all wa­ter qual­ity is good, some sec­tions have ma­jor prob­lems. Wa­ter pol­lu­tion and wa­ter and soil loss pose se­ri­ous threats to the eco­log­i­cal safety of the drainage basin.” Since 1996, Lu has been re­search­ing leg­is­la­tion for wa­ter re­source pro­tec­tion along the river.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­search from Lu’s group, ex­ploita­tion of some branches of the up­per reaches of the Yangtze River has led to dry riverbeds, which has wrought neg­a­tive im­pacts on en­vi­ron­ment. The mid­dle and lower reaches of the river lack a co­her­ent man­age­ment sys­tem. Il­le­gal sand ex­ca­va­tion and shore­line oc­cu­pa­tion still oc­cur. Some river mouths are stuck with sed­i­ment and face more salt­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion. Many in­ter­tidal zones have dis­ap­peared due to hu­man ac­tiv­ity. Many tran­sre­gional wa­ter trans­fer and wa­ter con­trol projects have been im­ple­mented, re­sult­ing in wa­ter leav­ing the drainage basin.

Be­cause the river tra­verses many places, as many as 12 de­part­ments have ju­ris­dic­tion over de­vel­op­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tion of the river. Due to the lack of a for­mal law, con­flicts hap­pen at all lev­els of gov­ern­ments and some reg­u­la­tions from dif­fer­ent lev­els are con­tra­dic­tory or vague.

Dif­fi­cult Birth

After a great deal of re­search, in the early 1990s, the Min­istry of Wa­ter Re­sources and the Changjiang Wa­ter Re­sources Com­mit­tee (CWRC) first pro­posed to en­act law re­lated to the Yangtze River. In 2003, Lu Zhong­mei, then a deputy to the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, sub­mit­ted a bill to reg­u­late us­age of the Yangtze River. In 2006,

CWRC for­mally sub­mit­ted Changjiang River Law (leg­isla­tive sug­ges­tion) to China’s Min­istry of Wa­ter Re­source. In 2010, Wang Shuyi, pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute of En­vi­ron­men­tal Law at Wuhan Univer­sity and his team drafted Changjiang River Law of the

Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China and pre­sented it to China’s Min­istry of Wa­ter Re­sources. How­ever, in the fol­low­ing years, progress came to a halt.

“The Yangtze River law has been de­layed be­cause the sit­u­a­tion has proved dif­fi­cult to leg­is­late, with re­al­ity much more com­pli­cated than the­ory,” ex­plains Lu. “For ex­am­ple, the lower reaches re­quire up­per pro­tec­tion of the source, while the up­per re­gions think they should be com­pen­sated be­cause they make the in­vest­ment to pro­tect the lower re­gions. But the lower ar­eas be­lieve the up­pers should first man­age the pol­lu­tion be­fore any com­pen­sa­tion is dis­cussed. Some prov­inces in the mid­dle reaches have filled the ti­dal zone with real es­tate de­vel­op­ments, which cause floods. Con­flicts be­tween re­gions over pro­tec­tion can only be solved with reg­u­la­tions.

“Another rea­son was that the tim­ing was not good back then, when the na­tional strat­egy for the de­vel­op­ment of the Yangtze River Delta was not as clear as it is today, and there was no ur­gent need for re­lated leg­is­la­tion.”

As some im­por­tant project like the Three Gorges Dam and South-to-north Wa­ter Di­ver­sion Project op­er­ate and the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and the Yangtze River Eco­nomic Zone dom­i­nate the agenda, the Yangtze River is even more crit­i­cal

to China’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. Pro­tec­tion of the river that fosters de­vel­op­ment of the econ­omy has be­come a pri­or­ity.

Core Aim

“Agri­cul­tural de­part­ments hope the river can pro­duce more aquatic prod­ucts, wa­ter de­part­ments want to set up more projects, trans­porta­tion au­thor­i­ties ex­pect more ships while tourism agen­cies want to de­velop more tourist des­ti­na­tions,” il­lus­trates Lu. “These de­part­ments all ex­er­cise their pow­ers ac­cord­ing to the law, but when in­ter­twined, these pow­ers may leave the Yangtze River a mess. The aim of the leg­is­la­tion is to co­or­di­nate those de­part­ments’ pow­ers and at the same time de­fine the bot­tom line eco­log­i­cally.”

Leg­is­la­tion pro­moted by Lu and other ex­perts is ex­pected to reg­u­late ex­ploita­tion and pro­tect the en­tire drainage basins of the Yangtze River through ef­forts by gov­ern­ments, en­ter­prises and in­di­vid­u­als. The ex­pected law should set up a co­or­di­na­tion and co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nism and con­struct a mod­ern gov­er­nance sys­tem for the drainage basins.

“For ex­am­ple, when a dam is con­structed on the river, what will hap­pen to the aquatic life?” Lu asks. “How are the fish go­ing to mi­grate? What about the sail­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion in lower reaches? Now, the de­vel­op­ment and re­form com­mis­sion has the right to ex­am­ine and ap­prove the con­struc­tion of the dam, which, how­ever, also in­volves wa­ter, en­vi­ron­ment, trans­porta­tion and agri­cul­ture de­part­ments as well as many en­ter­prises, cities and ci­ti­zens.” Tak­ing the to­tal im­pact of the dam into con­sid­er­a­tion, the law needs to al­low ev­ery party to have a voice, bal­ance wa­ter re­sources and des­ig­nate who has the fi­nal say. Also, the law must guar­an­tee en­force­ment of the de­ci­sion as well as that both en­vi­ron­men­tal and de­vel­op­men­tal needs are met.

“‘One law for one river’ is an im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ence in mod­ern wa­ter-re­lated leg­is­la­tion,” con­cludes Lu. “The Ten­nessee Valley Author­ity of the U. S. and the Rhine and Seine in Europe set good mod­els for us. Those rivers are all gov­erned by a spe­cific or­ga­ni­za­tion un­der the guid­ance of either a do­mes­tic or an in­ter­na­tional law. We can bor­row their ex­pe­ri­ence to de­sign leg­is­la­tion for the Yangtze.”

Sec­tion of the Yangtze River in Le­tianxi Town, Yichang City of Hubei Prov­ince. The long­est river in China, the Yangtze en­dures fre­quent droughts and floods. CFP

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