China has extended its river chief system across the country, with 300,000 officials appointed as chiefs to protect water bodies, the top water resources authority said on July 17.
About 400 of the river chiefs are provincial-level officials, and 59 are heads of their provinces. The system has been established in all 31 provincial regions on the Chinese mainland half a year earlier than planned, E Jingping, minister of water resources, said at a news conference.
He also said 29 provincial regions have appointed an additional 760,000 river chiefs at the village level.
China first appointed local government officials as river chiefs in 2007 to address pollution woes after a blue algae outbreak in Taihu Lake, Jiangsu province. The practice was later adopted in some regions with rich water resources to ensure strong enforcement of environmental policies and enhanced coordination of government bodies.
In December 2016, the central government ordered the system — which is linked to the performance evaluations of top officials — to be established nationwide by the end of 2018.
River chiefs’ responsibilities include water resource protection, pollution prevention and control and ecological restoration. Their job performance will be assessed and they will be held accountable if environmental damage occurs in the water bodies they oversee. Heads of provincial-level areas will be general chiefs responsible for all rivers in their region, according to the document.
E said 694 rivers chiefs have been held accountable for environmental violations in their rivers since 2017.
Various government bodies have duties in river protection. Previously, they conducted their jobs independently. With the system, the river chiefs who are government heads could mobilize and coordinate the scattered strengths to make the process more orderly and efficient, the minister said.
E said his ministry will specify river chiefs’ responsibilities in the next step of the work.
“First of all, we will specify what should be done in the management, treatment and protection of water bodies and what results should be achieved,” he said.
He also said a tailor-made document specifying problems, targets, tasks, measures and responsibilities, will be drafted for each river based on in-depth investigations.
Zhou Xuewen, vice-minister of water resources, said the river chief system has proved to be a good system, but it can only be effective when all river chiefs fulfill their responsibilities. To ensure the chiefs do their duties, his ministry has organized secret investigations in 29 provincial regions and visited 302 rivers.
“Inspectors found more than 500 problems that need rectification. With open investigations, it will be difficult to find these problems. This time, we visited the rivers without informing local governments and no local officials were allowed to go with inspectors,” he said.