On March 22, 2019, a press conference was convened by the Information Office of the State Council. Mr. Wei Shanzhong, Vice Minister of Water Resources, Yang Derui, Director General of Department of Water Resources Management, and Xu Wenhai, Director General of National Water Conservation Office, introduced progress on prioritizing water conservation and strengthening water resources management, and answered questions from the reporters.
In recent years, the Ministry of Water Resources has made positive progresses and significant achievements in promoting conservation, protection and management of water resources, under the guiding principle of President Xi Jinping as "prioritizing water conservation, balancing spatial distribution, taking systematic approaches and giving full play to the roles of both government and market".
First, objectives of water resources management are achieved. Efforts have been made to implement the most stringent water resources management system, establish “three redlines” of water resources development and utilization, water use efficiency and pollutant discharge in water function zones, and carry out dual control on water consumption and intensity, in a bid to advance the sustainable utilization of water resources and the transformation of economic development mode. Since the 13th Five-year Plan, China's total water consumption has remained stable, with the annual figure below 610 billion m3. It is fully convinced that the objective of controlling total water consumption below 670 billion m3 in 2020 will be achieved. Compared with those in 2012, water consumption for per 10,000 Yuan GDP and per 10,000 Yuan industrial added value in 2017 decreased by 30% and 32.9% respectively. Effective utilization coefficient of farmland irrigation water rose from 0.516 to 0.548, and water quality compliance rate in water function zones of major rivers and lakes went up from 63.5% to 76.9%.
Second, the water-saving society initiative has made significant progress. The main actions include continuous construction of counterpart facilities for water saving in large and medium irrigation districts, promoting water conservation and grain yield increase in Northeast China, improving water use efficiency in Northwest China, reducing groundwater over-exploitation in Northern part of China and reducing polluted water discharge in Southern part of China. A total of 65.05 million mu of efficient water-conserving irrigation area has been developed since the 13th Five-year Plan. Besides, efforts were also made regarding planned water use, technical renovation of high water-consuming industries and modernization of urban water supply network, and popularization of unconventional water sources. The initiation of 100 national-level water-conserving society pilots and water-conserving enterprises, organizations and residential communities have stimulated and led the people to save water in various regions and industries. Thanks to the water conservation campaign and education, an atmosphere that people cares about water-saving has been cultivated at the national level.
Third, the level of water allocation has been significantly enhanced. The eastern route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project came into operation in November 2013, and the middle route was put into operation in December 2014. Up to now, the total water diversion volume of both routes exceeded 23 billion m3, effectively upgrading water supply security of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu and other provinces. With unified water regulation, no dry-up of river course took place in the mainstream of Yellow River for 19 consecutive years, and no dry-outs occurred in East Juyanhai Lake in the lower reaches of the Heihe River for 14 consecutive years.
Fourth, water resources protection has been strengthened. Endeavors have been made to define water function zones of major rivers and lakes throughout China, and compile a national water resources protection planning. A list of 618 important water sources was unveiled, and standard compliance capacity building, inspection and evaluation were organized, in a bid to improve water source security. Support was given to local governments in implementing 237 projects of connecting rivers, lakes and reservoirs to effectively advance the ecological health of rivers and lakes. Water ecological civilization was piloted in 105 cities, with water ecosystems and environments significantly upgraded.
Fifth, control of groundwater over-exploitation has been strengthened. Diverted water from South-to-North Water Diversion Project was used to recharge groundwater in the water-receiving areas, which help to reduce groundwater exploitation of 1.5 billion m3 annually. In 2018, pilot projects were implemented in Hebei Province for groundwater recharge. With the middle Route Scheme of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project and joint regulation of local reservoirs, a total of 880 million m3 was delivered to Hutuo, Fuyang and South Juma rivers for ecological purpose. As a result, these chronical dry rivers are revitalized, some 46 square kilometers of water areas are formed, and the groundwater level along the route is remarkably raised. Recently, with the approval of the State council, Ministry of Water Resources and other ministries jointly unveiled the Action Plan for Comprehensive Groundwater Overexploitation Governance in North China jointly with other ministries.
Sixth, reform of water resources management system has been conducted. Pilot projects of water right system establishment have been implemented in 7 provinces and autonomous regions, including Ningxia, Inner Mongolia and Henan, so as to accumulate experiences in terms of water use right identification, transaction and establishment of management mechanism. In 2016, China Water Exchange was set up, and completed water trading of 2.774 billion m3 in total. Reform of agricultural water pricing system has been undertaken. Pilots of applying water resource tax have been carried out in 10 provinces, including Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin. Tax leverage has played an increasing role in the reduction of groundwater exploitation, transformation of water use pattern and regulation of water use behaviors.
However, with the economic and social development, China is still suffering from serious water problems, such as water shortage, ecological damage and environment pollution. The main focus of water governance have been shifted from satisfying people's demand for water development and disaster reduction with structural measures to meet the requirements of water resources, ecosystem and environment improvements and capacity building for supervision and management. Taking the above into consideration, the Ministry of Water Resources unveiled the guiding principle of "overcoming weak links of water projects and strengthening supervision of water sector", and defined the focus of water reform and development in the new era.
In 2019, the Ministry of Water Resources shall highlight water conservation, protection and management, and focus on the following tasks. First, we should strive for water conservation by adhering to and implement the water-saving priority policy, formulating and improving water-saving standard quota system, establishing a water-saving evaluation mechanism, initiating contract-based water-saving campaign in colleges and universities, and encouraging water-saving and office buildings and actions of all staff working in the water sector. Second we should lay a solid foundation for water resources supervision, by making water allocation plans for key river basins across provinces and cities, and defining indicators for control of total water use, water allocation in river basins, ecological flow, water exploitation and utilization as well as groundwater monitoring. Third, we should strengthen supervision and management of water abstraction by monitoring and supervision of key water intakes, check and registration of water taking structures, controlling of total water use, evaluating the results of implementing the most stringent assessment of water resources management system, and bring the intensity of water development and utilization under control. Fourth, endeavors should be made to control groundwater over-exploitation by making beneficial use of diverted water from the South-to-North Water Transfer Project, in order to recharge groundwater and satisfy ecological water needs. Focusing on the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, comprehensive measures such as optimization of water sources, adjustment of plantation pattern and water source conservation shall be taken, so as to control groundwater over-exploitation in North China.