At Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable (BEER) last month on Jan 21, Yusha Hu built upon Christine Boyle’s presentation on Northern China’s water crisis and agricultural water use with a discussion on urban water management issues.
Yusha is a 2008-2009 Fulbright Fellow studying water resource management and policy at Tsinghua University, with the Division of Environmental Policy and Management of the Environmental Science Department. Her research interests lie in the use of water policy and water resource management as a tool to better understand the process between federal environmental policy creation and local policy implementation in China. Yusha holds a BA in Biology and Environmental studies from Swarthmore College.
Here are her slides and synopsis of her presentation:
A synopsis, by Yusha:
This presentation introduces, in the first section, the severity and the distribution of China’s water pollution problem. Pollution is significantly worse in northern China than in southern China, both because much of the country’s industry and agriculture are located in the north and because the north is much more water scarce than the south, leaving river basins with less water to dilute or flush out pollutants that are added by human activity. Water quality has also seen no fundamental improvements in the last fifteen years, despite efforts by the government to prevent and clean up pollution.
In order to take a closer look at why this problem has been so intractable, the second half of the presentation focuses on a single pollution-producing sector. It uses the results of an in-depth and intensive World Bank study, “Stepping Up: Improving the Performance of China’s Urban Water Utilities” to introduce specific examples of ineffective urban wastewater management and recommend strategies for improvement. Main problems identified included the underutilization of wastewater treatment capacity, inability of many plants to afford operation and maintenance, incomplete and poorly maintained drainage networks, lack of funding in less affluent cities, and unrealistic national discharge standards.
Recommendations for better management are several. First, they include privatizing drainage network management and shifting responsibilities away from government drainage departments and to the wastewater treatment plants that the drainage networks are designed for. Second, discharge fees should be raised so that wastewater companies are able to achieve cost recovery. Third, more private sector investment should be encouraged to lessen the financial burden that currently rests on municipal governments. Fourth, transitional discharge standards should be instituted for second- and third-tier Chinese cities, so that money for pollution abatement may be spent more cost-effectively. Fifth, an increase in monitoring and enforcement is needed so that progress may be measured through performance, not money invested or capacity built. This is best brought about through an increase in personnel and funding to the enforcement branches of the government, and the adoption of standard bench-marking and data collection practices. This will also require shifting responsibility for enforcement away from municipal-level agencies and toward their provincial counterparts, to prevent conflicts of interest.