New plan to step up Yangtze River protection

Shortly after the central government had released an action plan for a campaign to protect the Yellow River, in August, it released another for the Yangtze River, on 19 September.

Covering 16 provinces and municipalities in the Yangtze basin, the plan sets targets for 2025 in improving water quality, drinking water security, pollution control and aquatic biodiversity.

The campaign is a follow-up to the one launched in 2018.

According to a Q&A from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, one of the main challenges in protecting the Yangtze is non-point source (dispersive) pollution, which has become prominent after point-source pollution (such as from factories) has been brought under control. Another major challenge is the degradation of aquatic ecosystems, including shrinking of wetlands and blue algal blooms in lakes, a result of excessive phosphorus in water.

To reduce pollution, the plan lays out action points in managing municipal effluent and solid waste, pesticide and fertiliser from agriculture, and heavy metals from industries. Phosphorus coming from both agriculture and industries, which has surpassed ammonia-nitrogen and oxidisable pollutants to become the chief pollutant in the Yangtze basin, will be screened for their sources and subject to strong supervision measures. 

To improve the health of aquatic ecosystems, it calls for the establishment of an “aquatic ecology evaluation system” for local governments. It also includes measures to repair and restore habitats and swimways for aquatic species, to repair forests, grasslands and wetlands as well as natural shorelines, and control algal blooms in major lakes.

To ensure water security, it vows to strictly control both the total quantity and intensity of water use. Notably, it says government agencies will make plans for ensuring “environmental flow” for rivers and lakes in the basin – to guarantee water levels necessary for maintaining aquatic ecosystems. That will also involve the demolition of small hydro dams that throttle water flow.

The plan also includes a section on “green regulatory system”, which is underpinned by the territorial zoning, ecological redlines, and pollutant discharge permission systems.