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River chief system established to push anti-pollution efforts

By Hou Liqiang | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-23 07:44

 River chief system established to push anti-pollution efforts

A group of river chiefs in East China's Shanghai inspect a water system to prevent pollution and improve the quality of the water.Fan Jun / Xinhua

If the system had not been implemented, there was a high possibility that some problems related to the protection of bodies of water would be shelved if the project required a coordinated approach from a number of departments, according to Luo Xiaoyun, head of Jiangxi's Water Resources Department and also director of the provincial river chief's office.

"We could all see the pollution in the water, but the sources were often located elsewhere, which made them the responsibility of various departments, including water resources, environmental protection, agriculture and transportation," he said.

However, many responsibilities overlapped, and the lack of coordination between departments, and the people in charge of rivers and different sections of the same rivers resulted in management loopholes.

"Before, officials could turn to departmental heads for help when they encountered obstacles to coordination. The departments may have been overseen by different officials and the obstacles may have lain in various fields and industries. Problems may also have been shelved during the coordinating process," he said.

With the system in place, all the problems can be solved under the leadership of top officials acting as river chiefs. Joint conferences are held when the responsibilities of different departments overlap and are the cause of unresolved problems. If a consensus is reached, the river chief's office will notify all departments to take action as agreed; if not, the river chief, or even the general river chief, will have to make a decision, which they must implement.

Leng Fenhua, river chief of the Wulingshui River in Xiushui, said the system has put him in a better position to seek cooperation from departments he doesn't control.

As the vice-mayor of Xiushui, Leng oversees departments related to agriculture, hydrology, and water and soil conservation, and he is often involved in river protection issues.

Improved efficiency

"Before the system was established, it was easy to coordinate the departments I oversaw when we needed to take action to protect the river, but that wasn't the case when I needed to coordinate departments I didn't oversee. For example, it was beyond my authority to order environmental and construction departments to take action," he said.

According to Leng, more than 20 government departments are members of a leading group at the river chief's bureau, so the new system allows their activities to be coordinated.

The system helps to tackle tough challenges, Zhang Bo, director of the Department of Water Environment management at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said during a media briefing about the river chief system in December.

China's unbalanced industrial structure has hindered the prevention and control of water pollution in many regions, and local governments face a choice between developing the economy or protecting the environment, he said.

With top officials now accountable as river chiefs, the system will help to change the nation's industrial structure and better protect the environment, he said.



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