Water Supply and Sanitation in The People's Republic of China - History and Current Developments - Massive Investment Program For Wastewater Treatment

Massive Investment Program For Wastewater Treatment

Over the past 20 years, China has engaged in what is possibly the largest program to build wastewater treatment plants in history. Despite the substantial achievements of this program, many challenges remain.

Achievements Until the early 1980s, there was no single municipal wastewater treatment plant in China. Only then the country’s first municipal wastewater treatment plant was built in the city of Nanjing. Subsequently, China engaged in what possibly is the largest wastewater treatment investment program in history. It has been estimated that in 2006 there was sufficient capacity to treat 52% of municipal residential wastewater. According to the State Environmental Protection Agency the rate of urban wastewater treatment even reached 57% in the same year. In any case, the government's goal to achieve a level of 60% for treatment of municipal wastewater by 2010 will probably be reached even earlier. Between 2001 and 2004, the number of cities that charge wastewater tariffs has increased from 300 to 475 out of 661 cities.

Remaining challenges However, in the rush to construct planning mistakes were made. Demand was overestimated, the construction of sewerage lagged behind the construction of treatment plants, designs were sometimes inappropriate, there was no requirement for pre-treatment of industrial effluents thus affecting the effectiveness of treatment processes, and the sites chosen for the first priority investments within a river basin were not always those where the highest impact could have been achieved in terms of improving river water quality. As a result, many plants are underutilized or poorly functioning. According to the Ministry of Construction, more than 50 wastewater treatment plants in more than 30 cities operated at only 30 percent of their capacity or did not even come into operation. Consequently, the impact of the investment program on the water quality in rivers and coastal waters has been limited.

During the 1990s, municipal and industrial water use actually declined because of low increases of connection rates to utilities because of underestimation of the importance of small-scale water providers, increased tariffs, increased metering, industrial restructuring, measures to increase the efficiency of water use in industries, as well as due to water scarcity and drought. Many Chinese water and wastewater companies have overcapacities and are in financial difficulties because the revenues are insufficient to cover the servicing of the debt contracted to build the oversized infrastructure.

Read more about this topic:  Water Supply And Sanitation In The People's Republic Of China, History and Current Developments

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