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Among 1,940 national monitoring sections, 74.3 percent were found to have fairly good water quality at or above Grade III. [Photo/IC]

Publicity move aims to put pressure on officials to make improvements

The top environmental watchdog made public the water quality rankings of major cities across the country for the first time on Tuesday, hoping to pressure local governments to redouble their efforts to improve water quality via media exposure.

The country experienced a general improvement in its surface water quality in the first quarter of this year. Of the 1,940 national monitoring sections, 74.3 percent were found to have fairly good water quality-at or above Grade III in China"s five-tier water quality system, up by 8 percentage points year-on-year-according to a media release from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Tuesday.

It said 6 percent of the sections were found with water below Grade V, the lowest level, down by 3.6 percentage points. The major pollutants in the water were ammonia nitrogen, total phosphorus and chemical oxygen demand.

While the Yangtze River and the Pearl River basins were found to have fairly good water in general, another four of the seven major river basins in the country, including the Yellow River and Huaihe River basins, experienced mild pollution. The Liaohe River basin was the only one with medium-level pollution, it said.

The Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region outnumbers all other regions with 11 cities in the top 30, though Ya"an, Sichuan province, tops the list. Shanxi province has the most cities-six-in the bottom 30 cities in the ranking. Lyuliang, Shanxi, ranks last.

"The main reason for publishing the rankings is to pressure local governments to intensify their efforts in water protection," said Hu Kemei, deputy director of the ministry"s environmental monitoring, adding that publishing the rankings has proved successful in improving air quality because it tends to strengthen efforts by local governments.

Disclosure of the information will also facilitate the public"s participation in supervising the government"s work and encouraging governments to fulfill their duty, she added.

In addition to the water quality ranking, the ministry also published a list showing the improvement made by major cities in the past three months. While few cities from developed regions in East and South China are listed in the top 30 or bottom 30 in the regular list, many of them show up in the top 30 with regard to improvements they have made. Qingdao, Shandong province, for example, saw its water quality improve by almost 40 percent.

The two rankings will be published every three months, the ministry said.

The announcement of the rankings also marks a significant change in water governance. Previously, the country"s environmental watchdog mainly targeted total pollution discharge control in their water management. They will be more focused on water quality improvement from now on, Hu said.

Wang Yeyao, deputy head of the National Environmental Monitoring Center, said a series of measures have been taken to root out the falsification of monitoring data. Previously, water samples were collected in the first 10 days of each month. Now samples are collected randomly to avoid interference.

He also said samples will be sent for testing away from the cities where they are collected.

"The labs for the tests, all of which are official, will be chosen randomly by a computer system. Meanwhile, each sample will be coded so that labs will not know where the samples came from," Wang said.

Environmental companies who are given the task of sample collection must record their work with cameras and GPS tracking, he added.

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