Thoroughly Implementing the New Development Philosophy and Pushing Forward the Intensive and Safe Utilization of Water Resources
By H.E. Li Guoying, Minister of Water Resources, on the occasion of 2021 World Water Day and China Water Week published in People's Daily
March 22nd marks the 29th World Water Day, as well as the kickoff of the 34th China Water Week. The United Nations has announced the theme of 2021 World Water Day: “Valuing Water”. Accordingly, China’s activities commemorating 2021 World Water Day and 2021 China Water Week have focused on the theme of “Thoroughly Implementing the New Development Philosophy and Pushing Forward the Intensive and Safe Utilization of Water Resources”.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee, with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, has made sound deployment regarding water governance from a strategic and overall perspective so that water resources can better serve the long-term stability and sustainable development of China. General Secretary Xi Jinping has explicitly put forward the water governance concept of “prioritizing water conservation, balancing spatial distribution, taking systematic approaches, and giving full play to the roles of both government and market”. He delivered a series of important speeches on guaranteeing national water security, promoting development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, and practicing ecological conservation and high-quality development in the Yellow River Basin. His important instructions have provided us with scientific and fundamental guidance for water governance. Moreover, the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee made a range of significant arrangements, pointing out the main direction, strategic objectives and key tasks in our efforts to further improve the allocation of water resources, build capacity for flood and drought defense, and push forward the intensive and safe utilization of water resources.
Water is a fundamental, leading and controlling factor underpinning economic and social development, and its bearing capacitydetermines the potential of economic and social development. China has a large population with limited per capita share of water resources. The uneven spatial and temporal water distribution fails to match the layout of economic activities. Hence, it is a strategic issue for China to tide over the conflict between water resource distribution and the demands of economic and social development in the new development stage. It is imperative for water professionals to bear the fundamental national interests in mind and follow the important speeches and instructions on water governance made by President Xi Jinping.
We should further carry out the water governance principle of “prioritizing water conservation, balancing spatial distribution, taking systematic approaches, and giving full play to the roles of both government and market”, comprehensively, accurately and fully practice the new development philosophy, and scientifically plan and steadily advance the high-quality development of the water sector in the new stage, in a bid to render powerful support for the building of a modern socialist country in an all-round way.
Water resources are highly relevant to people’s health and quality of life, as well as production and development. In accordance with the fundamental objective of the new development philosophy, we should bear in mind that people’s demand has shifted from gaining access to water to high-quality water supply. Thus, people-oriented endeavors need to focus on raising water standards, supply capacity, and water quality, giving people a more direct and true sense of gain, happiness and security.
In taking a solution approach in advancing the new development philosophy, we should note that China is faced with a prominent conflict between the supply and demand of water resources. Specifically, up to 53% of the country are overloaded or critically overloaded areas in terms of water. Varying degrees of water shortage exist in different region+s as a result of limited natural endowment, lack of water storage infrastructure or poor water quality. Cut-off rivers, dried-up lakes, shrinking wetlands, land subsidence and other ecological problems also exist in some areas. To tackle these problems, efforts must be made to identify the root causes, launch systematic measures and take more targeted and practical steps. We should develop a stronger sense of responsibility when implementing the new development philosophy, because water is vital to people’s safety, food security, economic security, social security, ecological security and national security. It is necessary to strike a balance between development and security, stick to bottom-line thinking, enhance risk awareness, keep a clear mind regarding all risks involved in water withdrawal, supply, conveyance, utilization and discharge, and adopt targeted measures to firm up the basis, shore up weak links and make full use of advantages, so as to prevent and control risks with foresight.
Firstly, we should uphold the principle of prioritizing water conservation, and thoroughly advance the National Water Saving Campaign. Water conservation shall be regarded as a premise for the development, utilization, preservation, allocation and diversion of water resources, so as to promote water use in a more intensive and economical manner.
It is highly important to improve the water saving standard system and water consumption quota system, especially implementing quota-based water use management for water-intensive industries, and carrying out water conservation evaluation. We should focus our efforts on strengthening water saving and water use control in water-intensive industries and key areas, raising water use efficiency in agriculture, reducing water use and discharge in the industrial sector, saving water and reducing leakage in urban areas, and encouraging recycled use of water. We should leverage relevant systems, policies and technologies to move faster towards a sound water conservation mechanism featuring government guidance, market regulation and social collaboration. Obligatory water conservation targets need to be set up. The water use pricing mechanism shall be improved and market-oriented reforms for water rights trading and water resource tax shall be accelerated. Contract-based water conservation and other service models shall be promoted, and water-saving publicity and education will be strengthened in a bid to create a favorable atmosphere for water conservation in society.
Secondly, we should establish a strict system to control the upper limit for the exploitation and utilization of water resources. In adherence to the principle of formulating plans of urban development, land use, population and industrial structure based on water resources availability, a rigid water resources constraint system shall be put in place. Strictest water resource management system shall be fully implemented in order to optimize the scale, structure and layout of development and to keep economic and social development in good coordination with the carrying capacity of water resources. Besides, efforts shall be made to manage ecological flow, accelerate initial water rights allocation for cross-provincial river basins and cross-city/county rivers, and keep both the total groundwater withdrawal and the groundwater level under control. The National Action Plan on Permitted Water Withdrawal shall be further advanced. Inspection of the registration of water withdrawal sites across the country in high standards will be conducted to effectively standardize water withdrawal and use. Endeavors shall also be made to determine the total water consumption in river basins and regions in a reasonable way, strictly conduct water resources assessment and permit-based water management, suspend the issuance of new water withdrawal permits in overloaded areas, and resolutely curb unreasonable water demands.
Thirdly, we should accelerate the development of the National Water Grid, and optimize the strategic layout of water resources allocation. In accordance with the principles of necessity, ecological security and sustainability, the national water grid shall be comprehensive and holistic, intensive and efficient, green and smart, safe and reliable, with coordinated functions and regulation capacities, so as to strengthen national capacity of water resource allocation, water supply and strategic water reserve. Based on the overall situation of river basins, major water diversion projects shall be initiated to balance the spatial distribution of water resources. Specifically, the extension projects of the Eastern Route and Middle Route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project will be carried out and the comparison and selection of the plans for the Western Route should be pushed forward. A number of cross-basin and cross-regional backbone water conveyance channels, and supporting water facilities of all sizes will be built, so as to gradually improve the national water supply infrastructure network. Multi-purpose water projects and diversion and storage reservoirs will be built, and the construction of strategic water reserve projects and urban emergency water reserve projects will be strengthened to ensure water supply in key areas. The irrigation water supply pipeline network will be enhanced to ensure water supply in irrigated areas, and the development and modernization of irrigation districts shall be continued. Efforts will be made to extend urban water supply pipelines to rural areas, promote the interconnection between rural water supply projects and urban water supply networks, and construct projects for water source protection and rural water supply. Small rural water supply projects will be improved and renovated in a standardized manner to keep the “smooth flow” of capillaries of water supply networks.
Fourthly, we should make dedicated efforts to strengthen river and lake protection and improvement, and promote water ecosystem conservation and restoration. “Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.” River and lake protection and improvement will be further strengthened, with coordinated efforts focusing on water and soil conservation, groundwater overdraft control and ecological restoration of deteriorated rivers and lakes, so as to preserve and expand the ecological space of rivers and lakes. The river and lake chief system will be strengthened, and all illegal structures and excavation activities in river courses and lake basins will be eliminated. More efforts should be made to consolidate the achievements in defining river and lake management boundaries, launch campaigns to better manage sand excavation activities in river courses, as well as other law enforcement actions related to rivers and lakes, so as to improve river and lake management and protection mechanisms. Ecological protection of rivers and lakes shall be geared up with an aim to continuously improve river and lake landscape. Comprehensive soil erosion control shall be enhanced in a scientific way. Efforts will be focused on small watersheds, rain-fed irrigated areas and silt dams, to strictly curb new soil erosion resulted from human activities. Endeavors shall be made to restore ecosystems in ecologically fragile rivers and key lakes, and accelerate the comprehensive control of groundwater overdraft in North China and other key regions. Water discharge facilities in small hydropower stations will be renovated so as to ensure sufficient ecological flow and to improve water systems in rural areas to keep the waters lucid and river banks green.
Fifthly, we should develop science and technology and embrace digital prowess so as to improve smart water management. We need to make full use of digital mirror, digital twin, emulation and simulation with other advanced information technologies. A nationwide water resources management and allocation system will be established in order to realize digitized, intelligent and intensive water resources management. The development of monitoring systems shall be reinforced by optimizing the layout of monitoring stations, especially at the river cross-sections between administrative regions, water intakes and outlets, and groundwater sites monitoring. Thus, real-time online monitoring of all indicators, including water quantity, level, and flow, could be achieved to improve information acquisition and sensing. In addition, the total volume of water resources and actual water use in river basins and major regions will be recorded in real time and updated timely. Intelligent simulation will be employed for water resources management and allocation rehearsals. Forecast and early warning could be carried out regarding the water use quota, ecological water flow and other indicators to enable risk control in advance and the formulation of contingency plans. In sum, smart technologies will inform and support decision-making for water security and efficient water use.