2012 State of Environment Report Review

By China Water Risk 6 June, 2013

Mixed news from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP)'s 2012 State of Environment Report

Songhua & Hai rivers improve but Pearl's Grade I-III water deteriorates; Three Lakes are still unfit for human touch
Bad & Very Bad groundwater worsened to 57.3%; RMB5.4bn set aside to clean up heavy metal pollution
MEP stepping up transparency, naming polluting companies & withholding EIA approval for projects

“national water quality is not optimistic”

Ministry of Environmental Protection, June 2013

Mixed news from the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s (MEP)  2012 State of Environment Report released on 4 June 2013. According to the MEP, the “national water quality is not optimistic”.
The good news first …

Overall Water Quality of Rivers

River water quality improves

The overall water quality in the then river basins have improved. Although there was hardly any change in Grade I-III water (up 0.3%), there is a fall in Grade V+ water from 13.7% to 11.3% from 2011.

The breakdown of water quality of the 7 major river basins are as follows:
Water Quality of 7 Main River Basins 2012
Water Quality of Hai & Songhua 2009-2012There is marked improvement in the Songhua and Hai Rivers.
The Songhua is the most improved with a 28% gain in Grade I-III water and a fall of 60% in Grade V+ water.
The most polluted river, the Hai River has also made a gain in Grade I-III of 23% and lowered its Grade V+ water by 14%.
Mixed news on the Pearl, Liao and Huai rivers where despite improvement in Grade I-III water, experience a deterioration in Grade V+ water. Grade V+ water in the Liao river rose by 34% within the year and in the south, the Pearl river, also saw a rise in Grade V+ water by 23%.
Water Quality of Pearl, Huai & Liao 2009-2012

Water Quality of Yellow River 2009-2012There is also bad news for the Yellow river which saw a deterioration in Grade I-III water by 13%.  The Yellow river is the only river which increased its percentage of water that is “unfit for human touch”

Key Lakes & Reservoirs – judgement reserved

Although on the surface it appears that the overall quality of the key lakes & reservoirs have improved dramatically from 2011, it should be noted that the MEP expanded the reporting of water quality from 26 key lakes & reservoirs to 62. So results are not comparable.

2012 Overall Water Quality of Lakes & Reservoirs.jpg

However, one could argue that conditions could have worsened. In 2011, 4 lakes and reservoirs fall in Grade V and 2 in Grade V+, whereas in 2012, there is 1 lake/reservoir in Grade V and 7 with water quality that is Grade V+. Again, China’s “Three Lakes” Tai Hu, Dian Hu and Chao Hu are still not fit for human touch.

Of the 60 lakes monitored for euthrophication, 25% were high, 6.7% moderate and 18.3% mild.

Groundwater woes continue to deepen

Groundwater pollution remains severe with groundwater falling in the bad to very bad category rising from 55% t0 57.3%.

2012 Overall Water Quality of Groundwater.jpg

Rural environmental problems: increasingly apparent

“the rural environmental situation is still grim”

Ministry of Environmental Protection, June 2013

The report also highlighted that industrialisation, urbanisation and agriculture practices have impacted the rural environment citing industrial and mining pollution pressure, municipal sewage and intensified livestock production. It noted for the 798 villages where environmental monitoring was piloted, the results showed that whilst the air quality is general good, the rural drinking water ground & surface sources have been polluted to varying degrees – “the rural environmental situation is still grim”.

“Protect while develop, develop while protect” and “special funds” set aside

In line with the above “spirit” the MEP has withheld Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approvals. Although 240 EIA project approvals were given amounting to investments of around RMB 1.4 trillion, 24 projects amounting to RMB100 billion faced rejection or suspension of approval as environmental requirements are not met.
The MEP  has also been more transparent recently naming and shaming 56 companies with groundwater pollution violations. The summary results of the 2012 National Inspection of Total Pollution Reduction released on 14 May also reinforced this stance with the MEP naming & shaming 16 sewage treatment facilities which are not operating as required. They were asked to rectify their problems within a set time limit. EIA of construction projects that add COD and Ammonium Nitrate in 6 cities across Inner Mongolia, Henan, Hubei, Guangdong, Hainan and Gansu will be suspended if building of targeted urban sewage treatment facilities are not met.
Meanwhile, the MEP states that they are on track to meet the 2012 targets for COD, Sulphur Dioxide, Ammonia Nitrate and Nitrogen Oxide with reductions of 3.05%, 4.52%, 2.62% and 2,.77% respectively.
Special funds are also to be set aside:

  • RMB5.4 billion for remediation of heavy metal pollution, including the 2.3 million tonnes of residual chromium in the water,
  • RMB2.5 billion for ecological protection of lakes;
  • RMB5.5 billion for rural environmental protection

With the launch of Satellite “Environment 1C” and recent activity and follow up on pollution investigations (see table here) it does look like the MEP is springing into action. Perhaps the picture will less grim picture next year.

Additional Reading

  • For current pollution status & description of Grades I-IV water quality, click here
  • For 2011 State of Environment Report Review, click here
  • For causes of pollution, click here
  • For the 2012 State of Environmental Report (Chinese Only), click here


China Water Risk
Author: China Water Risk
We believe regardless of whether we care for the environment that water risks affect us all – as investors, businesses and individuals. Water risks are fundamental to future decision making and growth patterns in global economies. Water scarcity has emerged as a critical sustainability issue for China's economy and since water powers the economy, we aim to highlight these risks inherent in each sector. In addition, we write about current trends in the global water industry, analyze changes occurring both regionally and globally, as well as providing explanations on the new technologies that are revolutionizing this industry.
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