UP to 40 percent of China's rivers were seriously polluted last year after 75 billion tons of sewage and waste water was discharged into them, the country's water authority said yesterday.
Water shortages, serious river pollution and a deterioration in the aquatic ecology in 2011 were described as "quite outstanding," and could threaten the country's sustainable growth, Hu Siyi, vice minister at the Ministry of Water Resources, told a press conference in Beijing.
China, with a population of 1.3 billion people, consumes more than 600 billion cubic meters of water a year, or about three-quarters of its exploitable water resources, Hu said.
The per capita of water resources is only 2,100 cubic meters annually, or about 28 percent of the world's average.
About two-thirds of Chinese cities are "water-needy," he said, while nearly 300 million rural residents lack access to drinking water.
Zhou Xuewen, head of the ministry's planning department, said a lot of water was wasted in agriculture, an industry which uses 60 percent of China's water.
Only half is used effectively, Zhou said, 20 percent less than in developed countries.
Hu said that about 20 percent of rivers were so polluted their water quality was rated too toxic even to come into contact with.
"The deterioration of water quality has threatened the safety and health of people, while the water quality problem has limited the economic and social development and people's lives," Hu said.
Hu said the ministry was investigating an incident early this month when a South Korean cargo ship spilled toxic phenol that contaminated the drinking water source of Zhenjiang, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province.
In another accident, a spill of toxic cadmium in a river threatened drinking water supplies for millions of people in the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region last month, Hu said.
In southwest China's Yunnan Province, a chemical plant piped 5,000 tons of chromium tailings near a reservoir that feeds the Pearl River, one of China's major rivers, in June 2011.
"With the rapid development of the country's heavy industry, a large number of chemical plants have been built along the Yangtze River and near some drinking water resources that have posed great threats to water safety," Hu said. "Because of the grave situation, we must put in place the strictest water resources management system."
The State Council unveiled a guideline yesterday to regulate the use of water under "the strictest criteria," capping the maximum volume of water use at 700 billion cubic meters by the end of 2030.
The government will also tighten its supervision over exploitation of underground water, further protect sources of drinking water, and restore the aquatic ecological system by introducing licenses and other measures.
The government plans to invest 4 trillion yuan (US$634.9 billion) in water conservation projects over the next 10 years, of which 1.8 trillion yuan will be spent during the 2011-2015 period.