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Date issued:2020-08-19
Drafting Facile and Practicable Environmental Solutions to the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement

Jinnan Wang


Good planning makes a great future. The CPC Central Committee-led State Council has long put importance on aquatic ecosystem protection, marked by the 1996 Water Pollution Act which made pollution control of important water bodies a legal concern. Five important water body protection plans have been made and implemented since the “Three River, Three Lake” initiative was introduced in the 9th FYP period. While quite a lot of local water bodies were depleted of aquatic life in the 1990s, most of them are once again improving in quality. The important water body plans have played an instrumental part in aquatic ecosystem improvement.

Success Achieved in the 13th and 14th FYPs for Important Water Body Protection in Face of New Situations and Challenges

The 13th FYP achieved unprecedented success in aquatic ecosystem protection thanks to the Action Plan for Water Pollution Control and the Crystal-clear Water Initiative. By the end of 2019, 770M people had effective access to improved drinking water quality; 8.9 percentage point-more water bodies achieved III-grade or higher than in 2015, while V-grade water bodies fell by 6.3 percentage points. In completed areas of prefectural cities or above, polluted water bodies fell by 86.7% in number, including a 96.2% drop in 36 important cities and an 81.2% drop in other cities.

On the whole, the aquatic ecosystem is improving nationwide and presents beautiful landscape to people, yet there’s still quite a long way to go to tackle the in-depth problems.

As for water resources, 200+ of the 300+ rivers in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, accounting for 2/3 of all local rivers, have dried up in flood season. Drying-up of water is also witnessed in some nature reserves in the water-rich Yangtze Basin. Many lakes and rivers which abounded with aquatic plants and animals in the past are imperiled continuously by nearby human activities, especially trawling which makes a large number of “underwater deserts”. It’s reported that the habitat of Yangtze alligators is limited to green alga-infested pools. Many lakes and river, while with cleaner water, are depleted of aquatic animals.

As part of the 2035 goal of the Environmental Improvement Initiative of the CPC 19th National Congress to fundamentally achieve the goal of a beautiful China, General Secretary Xi Jinping demanded, at the National Environmental Protection Workshop, that “we should restore the natural environment to its original, unpolluted condition”. It seems that aquatic ecosystem is a longtime, sustained effort. As stipulated in the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement, the competent authorities must respond actively and speedily to public needs so that ecosystem improvement will provide the public with a lot more tangible benefits. It’ll be a great challenge to fulfill people’s dream for an unpolluted aquatic ecosystem abounding with life.

The Principles and Doctrines to Uphold for Drafting the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement.

In Dec 2019 the Ministry of Ecology and Environment released the Technical Guidelines for Drafting the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement (Technical Guidelines). In Apr 2020, the first 10 tentative programs were kicked off with general stable progress.

It’s important to cling to the keynote. The 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement sets the keynote for important water body protection, that is, heritage, down-to-earth innovation and practicability. Heritage requests us to sum up and adapt the successful experience and best practices to the new context of the 14th FYP. Developments may be needed to further the improvement of the aquatic ecosystem. Down-to-earth innovation involves how to apply President Xi’s philosophy of ecological civilization to drafting the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement as regards problem analysis, contributing factor research, task design, program selection and policy making. Practicability involves solutions which target core problems, responsibilities and practicable measures for the benefit of the masses. It’s important to attain to the preset goals, i.e. unpolluted aquatic ecosystem abounding with life.

We should attach importance to two points. First, because the worsening aquatic ecosystem comes out of ever-changing complicated conditions, solutions must be neither expedient nor unvarying in nature. Site investigation should be conducted on each water body, province and prefectural-level city. Visits should be paid to the local officials and masses at the grassroots level to obtain information in detail, identify and make a list of the environmental problems for an in-depth analysis. We should target and tackle the problems with practicable and effective solutions. Second, there must be coordinated solutions. We’ll achieve the goal of an unpolluted ecosystem since traditional pollution control solutions are beginning to fail and it’s not pragmatic to cling to the past working modes and goals. There must be a scientific principle to follow concerning the timeline, goal and task for the 14th FYP period. It’s important to pursue the scientific principle that flora, fauna and natural landscape constitute one and the same ecosystem. We deem it important to continuously coordinate water resources, the aquatic ecosystem and the aquatic environment, and help the masses address key problems such as water pollution, aquatic ecosystem worsening and ecological flow shortage. We should set practicable goals according to the Technical Guidelines for the 14th FYP.

Important Goals to Achieve regarding the Drafting of Water Body Improvement Programs for the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement

The Technical Guidelines specifies how to draft programs regarding the eight points. Besides, there’re three points to take note of.

First, it’s important to identify the water environment problems characteristic of the various water bodies. In this regard we should provide specific solutions to different water bodies according to local natural resource endowment. In-depth analysis should be made to dissect the significant problems with local water bodies. Diverse and pertinent solutions must be made to suit local natural conditions. The solutions shall target the upper/middle/lower reaches of rivers, important branches, important zones, important cities, and important economic development districts. Environmental protection and remediation activities must be systematic, consolidated and coordinated in order to solve specific problems. A list of problems regarding various water bodies should be prepared.

Second, it’s important to set an appropriate and achievable goal for the program. In the Technical Guidelines, water body concerns water resources, the aquatic ecosystem concerns the aquatic ecosystem, and the harmony of man with water concerns water environment. These form what the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement specifies for the three water goals. Of course there’s no need for all water bodies to follow the three water goals. They target primarily water bodies which draw close public attention. The central government should demand the provinces, autonomous prefectures and municipalities participate in the initiatives as necessary. An unvarying solution is not encouraged. In one word, the various environment goals must be achieved; at the same time, solutions should vary with water bodies. In principle, higher requirements are made of water bodies and areas significantly below average national pollution levels. National pollution control programs should be a progressive plan which covers consolidation, improvement and restoration of the environment. As for standards of water resources and the aquatic ecosystem, the 14th FYP provides that water shall be restored to dried-up water bodies and areas. Biome shortage should be addressed, riparian & lacustrine buffer strips remediated and wetland remediated and reconstructed so as to restore indigenous fish and water plant species while improving local IBI. Pragmatic steps should be adopted to determine the achievable goals of water resources and the aquatic ecosystem.

Tasks and programs related to the water bodies and areas must be specified and analyzed for achievability. Multiple exchange of ideas and coordination between different administrative levels contributed to finalizing the goals.

Third, it’s important to draft facile and practicable environmental solutions. The measures taken should center on specific problems and goals. While there’s no need for a total solution, the measures should be pragmatic, effectual, pertinent, quantified and annualized. Systematic efforts should be made to push ahead with pollution control for industry, agriculture, households and water transport. The tasks include the improvement of water environment, the remediation of the ecosystem and risk control. As a program specifies a task in detail, the two mustn’t be separated. Rather, the task should be broken down into programs, of which the qualified for national water pollution budgets can enlist financial support.

Highlights of the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement

Compared with its predecessors, the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement differs in the following respects.

First, the plan gives more consideration to public interests. The plan is one-of-a-kind because it first introduced an index system which combines the conventional technical indices with the public interest indices. The public interest indices comprise polluted water body control for completed urban areas, quantity of water-restored rivers, quantity of water bodies that are home to indigenous fish or aquatic plant species, and other indices easily intelligible to the masses. The indices are supposed to reflect the public’s longing for a beautiful water environment.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment has recently conducted polls while releasing questionnaires on such platforms as the official website, WeChat and micro-blog. These efforts include “My Opinion of the 14th Water Environment Improvement Plan” and “Rivers and Lakes in My Memory” designed to collect public information. The 14th FYP is being implemented in order to satisfy the need of the masses for scenery and recreation, e.g. swimming. Every effort is being made to achieve harmony between man and water.

Second, the four responsibilities required of prefectural-level cities are further highlighted. In the past, the FYPs were implemented primarily through interaction between the central government and the provinces. In contrast, the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement further asks local prefectural-cities to assume more responsibilities in aquatic ecosystem improvement. The cities are required to locate and tackle the “four problems” in an effort to make the tasks and goals practicable.

Third, tentative programs are drafted as a driving force in all situations. Up to the present, the 14th FYP for Important Water Body Improvement has been tentatively implemented in 10 cities (Tongchuan, Weinan, Langfang, Huzhou, etc.) as required for the new goals, such as water restoration, buffer strip remediation and IBI improvement. These pioneering trials are meant to build up experience and set an example to the drafting of plans at the national, water body, provincial and city levels.



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