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Pilot compensation program helps clean river
Updated: 2013-09-24

Cao Guanwu, like others in Xiongcun village in east China, used to dump household garbage into a local river, an important drinking water source for millions of people in downstream Zhejiang province.

He stopped this environmentally unfriendly habit last year and started putting rubbish at the gate of his house, to be taken away to a garbage transfer station by collectors.

This change has helped clean the 359-km-long Xin'an River which originates in Huangshan city, Anhui province, flowing near the village and into eastern coastal booming Zhejiang. Two thirds of the river is located in Anhui.

'To prevent residents from throwing rubbish into the river, three collectors in the village are in charge of collecting garbage every day,' said Yu Hongyun, deputy head of Xiongcun township government.

The improvement is attributed to an eco-compensation scheme launched in November 2011, by the country's finance and environmental protection ministries.

Under the program, a compensation fund of 500 million yuan ($81.2 million) was set up for protecting water quality of the Xin'an River. The pot of money included 300 million yuan from the central budget and 100 million yuan from Anhui and Zhejiang each.

If water quality in Anhui reaches the agreed basic standards, including the limits for chemicals like ammonia, nitrogen and phosphor in water, Zhejiang gives its 100 million yuan to Anhui. If the water quality in Anhui fails to meet standards, Anhui compensates Zhejiang 100 million yuan.

'Monitoring results for 2012 showed the water quality of the river in Anhui was better than the basic standards. Zhejiang gave Anhui 100 million yuan,'said He Wenying, head of the environmental monitoring station of Huangshan City, the source of the river.

China has many trans-provincial rivers. Pollution of the upper reaches inevitably affects residents in lower reaches. Good water quality in the upper reaches benefits people downstream.

The year of 2013 has witnessed incidents including the discovery of thousands of pig corpses floating from the city of Jiaxing in east China's Zhejiang province to the city of Shanghai, as well as a leakage of aniline in Shanxi province that affected drinking water in neighboring Hebei province.

Urbanization and industrialization make it increasingly difficult to protect rivers from pollution. Lawmakers and experts have been calling for such compensation programs to tackle pollution problems.

Over the past few years, Huangshan city authorities have taken many measures to treat pollution, including garbage collection in villages along the river, treatment of agricultural pollution and urban sewage, cancellation of fishing farms on the river and upgrading of industries.

From 2006 to 2010, Huangshan shut down more than 150 polluting plants and completed 65 industrial waste treatment projects, said Lu Haining, deputy head of the Huangshan municipal environmental protection bureau.

In the past three years, the city has rejected more than 140 investment projects from outside, Lu added. The city has no iron and steel, building materials, printing and dyeing and paper-making industries.

'The aim is to protect the river,' said the official.

In Jiekou village, Shexian county of Huangshan, Wang Wenjin's fishing farms with an area of 10,000 square meters were dismantled within several months after the program started.

The government gave him 200,000 yuan in compensation. 'We all understand the policy is to protect the Xin'an River. We cannot raise fish any more in the river. But I do not know what I will live on in the future.'

A total of 95 households in Wang's village face the same problem.

'After two years of treatment, water quality in Xin'an River has improved a lot. But residents in the upper reaches who sacrificed their own interests to protect the ecological environment have not got substantial returns,' said Gu Jiawen, a senior political advisor in Huangshan.

The city has invested more than 7 billion yuan in environmental protection projects in the past three years and plans to pour a total of 40 billion yuan from 2011 to 2015 in protecting the water quality of the river.

'Compared with the huge investments, 500 million yuan is not much and even could not pay for the costs of the current environmental protection projects,' said Lu.

'The amount of the compensation fund should be increased annually. Otherwise, it cannot be called compensation,' he added.

After decades of rapid economic growth, pollution in air, water and soil has been a major problem in China.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said earlier this year in a report that the quality of the country's water sources is far from good.

The quality of underground water was ranked 'poor' or 'relatively poor' in 57.3 percent of the 4,929 monitoring points in 198 cities around the country, while the resource in about 30 percent of water monitoring points in major rivers was of poor quality.

Only to share the interests and jointly shoulder responsibilities can the compensation problem be solved, according to He Shaoling, an engineer with China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research.

Substantial compensation should be given to those who sacrifice their own interests to protect the environment, according to the expert.

Improvements should be made to the pilot scheme in order to promote it across the country for the protection of rivers, He added.

Source: Xinhua