China overall water quality improves in H1, but some regions worsen

A boat pulls away water lettuce as it cleans up the surface of Xizhi River, in Huizhou, Guangdong province April 8, 2015. Picture taken April 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Overall water quality in China improved in the first six months of this year, though five regions saw an increase in substandard samples over the period, the environment ministry said on Monday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a notice that 70 percent of surface water samples tested in the first six months of 2017 qualified as grade I to III, meaning it was clean enough for direct human use - up 1.2 percentage points compared to the same period of last year.

China ranks its water supplies in six bands. Grade IV refers to water that is “lightly polluted” but can still be used for ordinary industrial purposes, while Grade V is suitable only for agricultural use.

In the first six months of 2017, samples in the lowest “below-V” grade, which refers to water that is so polluted that it has “lost function”, fell 1.7 percentage points to 8.8 percent, the ministry said.

However, the ministry also listed 27 sampling sites that saw water quality decline in the first six months of the year, including sites in Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Liaoning and the capital Beijing, where a third of tested samples were judged to have “lost function”.

Five regions - Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Jiangxi, Guizhou and Shaanxi - also saw their amount of “below-V” samples increase over the period.

While much of the focus of China’s “war on pollution” has been the state of the country’s skies, more than three decades of breakneck development have also taken their toll on its rivers and soil.

In the latest round of inspections led by the central government, several provinces were accused of failing to protect their water resources and allowing firms to dump untreated wastewater into rivers.

China has introduced new action plans and legislation to improve wastewater treatment and ensuring that its rivers and lakes are cleaned up. Late last year, Beijing also launched a new scheme in which senior local officials would be appointed “river chiefs” who would be held personally responsible for guaranteeing water quality.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Christian Schmollinger