Regulatory framework for drinking water, wastewater discharge and reuse
China has a four-tiered governmental structure, consisting of the state or central government; provinces; cities, also referred to as municipalities; and districts or counties. The only exceptions are Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing which are municipalities but have the same administrative status as provinces.
Drinking water quality regulations
According to the Standardisation Law of the People’s Republic of China, standards are generally classified according to different levels: national, provincial and industry levels. National standards that start with GB are compulsory. Standards issued by particular ministries are designated with specific initials, for example, standards starting with SL are mandatory standards issued by MWR and those starting with CJ are issued by MOHURD. If a T is added, such as SL/T and CJ/T, this designates standards that are recommended i.e. not mandatory. This chapter will cover standards at both levels.
Municipal and industrial wastewater quality regulations
China’s wastewater discharge standards have been created in order to implement the following laws:
The compulsory Standards of Reclaimed Water Quality (SL368-2006) came into effect on June 2007. The Office of Water Resources Management of the MWR is responsible for this legislation.
Water in industry: petroleum and chemical industry
The petrochemical industry is one of the China’s so-called ‘pillar industries’, exceeding the U.S. petrochemical industry to place China at No. 1 on the global market. In 2010, the industry was valued at CNY 7,867.5 billion ($1,209.2 billion), which represents a 33.9% increase in value since 2009. The value-added of the industry in 2010 was CNY 1,600 billion ($250 billion), accounting for 4% of China’s GDP. According to the State Council, the industry has been growing by 20% on average every year since 2000. According to the CPCIA, the petrochemical industry is also one of the biggest industrial users of water. The exact breakdown of water use by sector is not available but the petrochemicals industry is estimated to account for 20% of industrial water use. The petrochemical sector is also the largest producer of wastewater, according to CPCIA with half of all the enterprises in the industry located along the banks of the Yangtze River and Yellow River, significantly contributing to the environmental degradation notoriously affecting those water courses.
Future regulatory scenario and conclusions
As mentioned above, the MEP, MWR, and MOH can all enact water regulations into law, while county level and industrial regulators (such as MIIT) are also involved in the creation of specific standards. The standards created by MOH relate to human health, thus apply to the regulations in all sectors; however, the standards enacted by MEP and MWR are comparatively independent from each other. Looking towards the future, the Chinese government plans to strengthen cooperation across agencies in the creation of new standards, revisions to existing standards and enforcement of regulations. Given its ever-increasing remit, it is expected that the MEP will take the lead-role in this respect.
List of laws, standards and policies