River Chief Scheme: War on Wa­ter Prob­lems

From “first-aid treat­ment” for the wa­ter pol­lu­tion cri­sis sep­a­rately per­formed by some lo­cal gov­ern­ments to a uni­fied­i­fied na­tional ap­proach, the river chief sys­tem has proved an ef­fec­tive mea­sure to solve com­pli­cated wa­ter prob­lems.

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Li Guibao and Zhangng Weib­ing

In Novem­ber 2016, the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) and the State Coun­cil re­leased a doc­u­ment aim­ing to roll out the river chief mech­a­nism na­tion­wide by the end of 2018. The doc­u­ment stressed that the man­age­ment and pro­tec­tion of rivers and lakes is a com­plex sys­tem­atic en­deavor in­volv­ing the up­per and lower reaches and dif­fer­ent ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions and in­dus­tries.

In re­cent years, cer­tain ar­eas have ac­tively ex­plored the pi­lot scheme. Lead­ers from the Party and govern­ment at all lev­els were ap­pointed to serve as river chiefs and shoul­der the ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­ity for river man­age­ment ac­cord­ing to the law and rules. By co­or­di­nat­ing and in­te­grat­ing the strengths of all par­ties, they have ef­fec­tively pro­moted wa­ter re­source pro­tec­tion, coast­line man­age­ment, pol­lu­tion pre­ven­tion and con­trol and eco­log­i­cal restora­tion.

The early re­sults from pi­lot ar­eas were en­cour­ag­ing, so the river chief scheme started to be im­ple­mented across the coun­try, be­com­ing an im­por­tant tool to im­prove the eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and build a beau­ti­ful China.

Eleven years ago, to im­prove the wors­en­ing wa­ter qual­ity of Taihu Lake in Wuxi City in eastern China’s Jiangsu Prov­ince, the lo­cal govern­ment of Wuxi took the lead in im­ple­ment­ing a river chief sys­tem. Heads of lo­cal Party and govern­ment de­part­ments at var­i­ous lev­els were ap­pointed “chiefs” of 64 rivers to strengthen pol­lu­tant source con­trol and su­per­vise man­age­ment work on wa­ter qual­ity.

Soon after the mea­sure was taken, out­stand­ing ef­fects emerged.

The ra­tio of Wuxi’s wa­ter func­tional zones that met rel­e­vant wa­ter qual­ity stan­dards in­creased from 7.1 per­cent in 2007 to 44.4 per­cent in 2015, and the wa­ter qual­ity of Taihu Lake also im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly.

From “first-aid treat­ment” for the wa­ter pol­lu­tion cri­sis sep­a­rately per­formed by some lo­cal gov­ern­ments to a uni­fied na­tional ap­proach, the river chief sys­tem has proved an ef­fec­tive mea­sure to solve com­pli­cated wa­ter prob­lems.

Since the scheme was rolled out across the coun­try, re­lated

de­part­ments of lo­cal gov­ern­ments have pro­moted it ac­tively. As of June 2018, sup­port­ing sys­tems paving the way for the scheme have been launched in more than 30 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, prov­inces and au­tonomous re­gions. River chief of­fices were set up by lo­cal gov­ern­ments at county level and above. Spe­cial in­sti­tu­tions such as the rivers and lakes man­age­ment de­part­ments and work sta­tions have been es­tab­lished in 26 pro­vin­cial-level ad­min­is­tra­tive units to per­form more de­tailed work.

China has ap­pointed more than 300,000 river chiefs across four lev­els of prov­inces, cities, coun­ties and town­ships. Fur­ther­more, the scheme has been ex­tended to the vil­lage level in 29 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, prov­inces and au­tonomous re­gions and des­ig­nated mon­i­tor­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the “last mile” by ap­point­ing more than 760,000 river chiefs (in­clud­ing river pa­trollers and stew­ards) in var­i­ous vil­lages.

Ev­ery­one In­volved

In ar­eas that pi­o­neered the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the river chief sys­tem, the ef­fects are out­stand­ing. For ex­am­ple, in Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, where the sys­tem was im­ple­mented at the end of 2013, pol­luted rivers have es­sen­tially been elim­i­nated. In Fu­jian Prov­ince, 12 main rivers con­sis­tently main­tain ex­cel­lent wa­ter qual­ity after three years of em­brac­ing the scheme.

Dur­ing the process, var­i­ous mea­sures have been taken by lo­cal gov­ern­ments such as or­ga­niz­ing the pub­lic to clean up wa­ter­courses, hir­ing poverty-stricken house­holds to serve as river clean­ers and pro­mot­ing lo­cal in­dus­trial trans­for­ma­tion and plant­ing struc­ture ad­just­ment.

Some re­gions have also pro­moted the sys­tem by es­tab­lish­ing a river chief in­spec­tion and pa­trol mech­a­nism, com­pil­ing a wa­ter prob­lems list, re­vis­ing the river chief per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion and ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem and cre­at­ing re­wards and hon­ors for ex­cel­lent work­ing groups and in­di­vid­u­als.

In 2017, Bei­jing fo­cused on in­te­grat­ing the river chief scheme with the project to phase out non-cap­i­tal func­tions and min­i­mize low-end in­dus­tries. By strength­en­ing treat­ment of pol­luted wa­ters and tight­en­ing wa­ter re­sources man­age­ment, the city de­ploys mea­sures to solve eco­log­i­cal prob­lems. In eval­u­a­tion of var­i­ous lo­cal wa­ter man­age­ment sys­tems and their strict­ness, Bei­jing has con­sis­tently ranked among the top five ex­cel­lent mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and prov­inces. The wa­ter qual­ity of rivers and lakes in the city has sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved, and the river chief scheme has achieved no­table suc­cess.

In Guang­dong Prov­ince, 13 cities were picked up from the Pearl River Delta re­gion, the eastern and west­ern parts of the prov­ince and the north­ern moun­tain­ous ar­eas to carry out the “one county, one town, one vil­lage” pro­vin­cial demon­stra­tion projects, form­ing plenty of repli­ca­ble and pro­motable grass­roots ex­pe­ri­ence.

Long Way to Go

How­ever, many prob­lems still per­sist.

First, some of­fi­cials have un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of their work. Some river chiefs don’t fol­low the long-term sched­ule and in­stead at­tempt to use dras­tic mea­sures to in­stantly solve prob­lems that have ac­cu­mu­lated over decades.

Sec­ond, progress made in var­i­ous places is quite un­bal­anced. The re­gions that im­ple­mented the scheme early have seen tremen­dous im­prove­ments in the con­di­tions of lo­cal rivers and lakes. In other places, the river chiefs have just as­sumed of­fice. Some work plans have not yet been smoothed out or need im­prove­ment. Also, staffing and in­vest­ment in river man­age­ment are also un­bal­anced.

Third, not all of the prob­lems are fixed quickly. In many places, the chiefs have started to pa­trol the rivers and pin­point wa­ter prob­lems. The pub­lic also re­ported plenty of prob­lems. Many river chiefs have man­aged to solve the prob­lems swiftly and achieved quick re­sults, but oth­ers have ig­nored prob­lems or failed to fix them ef­fec­tively.

In decades past, there wasn’t any uni­fied na­tional wa­ter man­age­ment sys­tem. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the river chief scheme has made re­spon­si­bil­i­ties much clearer, help­ing the ecosys­tem be grad­u­ally re­stored and the en­vi­ron­ment steadily im­prove. How­ever, river man­age­ment is a long-term task, so the es­tab­lish­ment of the river chief sys­tem is just a start.

In gen­eral, wa­ter man­age­ment is a sys­temic project in­volv­ing a wide range of fac­tors that in­flu­ence the over­all sit­u­a­tion. So, river chiefs and re­lated de­part­ments can­not shoul­der all the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties alone and need help from so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially the pub­lic at large. By mo­bi­liz­ing vol­un­teer river chiefs from the pub­lic, en­ter­prises and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions to par­tic­i­pate in wa­ter man­age­ment can progress be ad­vanced grad­u­ally.

We also need to do more to pro­mote suc­cess­ful ex­pe­ri­ence through var­i­ous forces such as the govern­ment, en­ter­prises, the pub­lic, the me­dia and civil or­ga­ni­za­tions to cre­ate a pos­i­tive at­mos­phere for wa­ter man­age­ment across all of so­ci­ety.

There­fore, in the fu­ture, we must not only make great ef­forts to solve the ma­jor prob­lems that have emerged, but also pre­pare for a “pro­tracted war” against wa­ter prob­lems by de­sign­ing long-term prac­ti­cal mea­sures.

Li Guibao is a pro­fes­so­rate se­nior en­gi­neer and deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Hy­draulic Spe­cial­ist Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Sec­re­tar­iat un­der the Chi­nese Hy­draulic En­gi­neer­ing So­ci­ety. Zhang Weib­ing is a pro­fes­so­rate se­nior en­gi­neer at the China In­sti­tute of Wa­ter Re­sources and Hy­dropower Re­search. The con­tents of this ar­ti­cle are based on a re­search project (Project Num­ber: JZ0145C162017) spon­sored by the China In­sti­tute of Wa­ter Re­sources and Hy­dropower Re­search.

July 15, 2018: Clear wa­ter of the Xiangjiang River runs smoothly through Quanzhou County in the Guangxi Zhuang Au­tonomous Re­gion. Quanzhou County has ac­tu­al­ized the idea that “lu­cid wa­ters and lush moun­tains are in­valu­able as­sets” by com­pre­hen­sively pro­mot­ing the river chief scheme. Through great ef­forts, the eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and wa­ter qual­ity of rivers in the county have con­tin­u­ously im­proved and even­tu­ally reached ev­ery wa­ter man­age­ment goal. IC

April 8, 2018: Work­ers clean garbage on the river in Hai’an County, Jiangsu Prov­ince. Lo­cated at the junc­tion between the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers, Hai’an County fea­tures criss­cross­ing wa­ter­courses. To main­tain an ideal nat­u­ral land­scape, the county has com­pre­hen­sively pro­moted the river chief sys­tem. Over 500 river chiefs in the county have vig­or­ously im­ple­mented the “Clear Wa­ter” project to re­store the eco-friendly and har­mo­nious nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment along the rivers and led lo­cal farm­ers in devel­op­ing fish breed­ing and poul­try farms to in­crease their in­comes. IC

July 22, 2018: The Shili River in Rongcheng City, Shan­dong Prov­ince. Rongcheng has en­acted a com­pre­hen­sive river chief scheme to pro­mote eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion. IC

April 10, 2018: Vol­un­teers launch a pro­mo­tional cam­paign in the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties of Suzhou City, Jiangsu Prov­ince to im­prove res­i­dents’ eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion aware­ness and fa­cil­i­tate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the river chief sys­tem em in lo­cal ar­eas. IC

July 1, 2018: More than 40 fish­ing ves­sels em­bark on the first fish­ing op­er­a­tion after the off sea­son in Chongqing’s Yun­yang County, one of which brought in more than a ton of fish, with the largest fish weigh­ing 12.1 kilo­grams. IC

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